Andrew Dempsey reporting from Tallaght Stadium
The Europa Conference League has been lauded as a gamechanger for the so-called lower leagues in Europe.
It may yet be. The financial rewards are vast, but unfortunately for League of Ireland clubs, they could not make that leap of faith to the group stages.
Heading into the playoff round of Europe's third-tier competition, Shamrock Rovers were the only Irish side left standing.
They said the Hoops had a mountain to climb after a disastrous first-leg, and to scale that summit at the foothills of the Dublin mountains felt suitably apt.
What was not, however, was to not do so. But that it proved.
They may have won a league and FAI Cup under Bradley and the ‘project’, but this, this was arguably the biggest test of all under his stewardship. That includes AC Milan last term in the Europa League.
Irish internationals Graham Burke and Daniel Mandroiu both returned to the fold as Bradley looked to engineer one of the great European nights.
With their starting XI possessing much star quality, it was the lack of options off the bench that in fact ended their European dream.
Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff at the end of last season, and while they may have replaced them with Richie Towell, this was a step too far.
But for Flora, this was their greatest night of all, and to do it on Irish soil showed how much of a missed opportunity this Europa Conference League campaign was for Irish clubs.
Their manager, Jurgen Henn, went with an unchanged side from last week’s win over the Hoops. The exquisitely named Martin Miller retained his place after causing the Hoops no end of issues in the first-leg.
One solace for the Hoops is that they will profit off the sale of Liam Scales who is all but set for a move to Celtic, but this missed opportunity to add more cash to the kitty will have stung.
Rovers are expected to lose Scales this weekend as he completes a move to the Glasgow giants for a reported fee of €600,000, according to the Irish Examiner.
This is a competition that will be targeted by Irish clubs, as it should be. To exit at the hands of a side with much bigger resources is one thing, but this was not the case tonight. It is a regretful (and expensive) exit from the League of Ireland champions.
Despite the result that was tinged with regret, it was an occasion to behold at Tallaght Stadium.
Sensing their side needed a lift after last week's defeat, a raucous 3,500 strong crowd brought the noise early on, and the hosts responded.
— Shamrock Rovers FC ☘️ (@ShamrockRovers) August 26, 2021
Ronan Finn, Graham Burke and Aaron Greene went close twice within the space of a minute as the Hoops marauded forward with gusto and venom.
Burke and Greene would combine minutes later, with the latter unable to get his foot on an inviting ball into the box and ask serious questions of Flora keeper Matvei Igonen.
The Estonians, however, grew into the game as it wore on, with Rauno Sappinen going close after some good play down the Hoops' left.
Mandroiu then did his level best to lift the roof off Tallaght Stadium seconds later, but his long-range strike just flew over the bar.
Rovers noticeably lacked penetration, a problem that held them back during the early days of the Stephen Bradley reign.
It was, however, a totally different issue that left the Hoops with an even bigger mountain to climb in the proverbial sense.
Mandroiu's loose pass was pounced on by Konstantin Vassijev, who then laid the ball off to Rauno Sappinen.
Sappinen would should low at Alan Mannus, with his shot squirming under the grasp of Rovers' netminder.
Shamrock Rovers now need to rustle up three goals as Rauno Sappinen puts Flora Tallinn in front in the 57th minute, Alan Mannus allowing the shot through his fingers #rtesoccer pic.twitter.com/02GCsgED8v
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) August 26, 2021
That was not the end of Rovers in the contest as they battled bravely right until the end.
Scales went close from a Ronan Finn cross, with Towell going close as well. But it just wasn't to be.
Maybe it was the lack of names off the bench that could change the game that costed Shamrock Rovers. Or perhaps it was also the costly defensive mishaps that cost them throughout both legs.
Either way, this was a night that showed how good the Europa Conference League can be.
For Rovers to miss out on the joy experienced by Flora Tallinn, that will be one that sickens them the most.