Keith Long admits a second-placed finish will be of little immediate comfort to his Bohemians side as their season finished with an FAI Cup quarter-final defeat at home to Dundalk on Friday night.
The Gypsies finished comfortably ahead of the defending champions in second and kept pace with eventual winners Shamrock Rovers until the final weeks of the shortened campaign.
Long’s mission heading into the season, however, was to win a trophy for the success-starved club and missing out on a third successive cup semi-final will be a hard one to take.
They took four points from their two league games with the Lilywhites but fell victim to the clinical Louth side – and a couple of contentious decisions – in their 4-1 defeat at Dalymount Park.
Former Bohs striker David McMillan’s header on the stroke of half time should have been chalked off as the ball had crossed the endline before Cameron Dummigan crossed.
And Michael Barker was shown a second yellow card in the second half as Bohs chased the game for what looked an innocuous tackle on Dundalk skipper Chris Shields.
Andre Wright had levelled up from the spot following Michael Duffy’s second-minute opener for Dundalk, before McMillan scored his first of the game from the penalty spot.
3-1 down at the break, Long made a raft of attacking substitutions in the second half, including 16-year-old prodigy Evan Ferguson, and he saw his effort spectacularly saved by Gary Rogers.
Barker’s sending off 18 minutes from time effectively ended Bohs’ chances of a comeback and substitute Nathan Oduwa added a fourth late on to cap off the win.
And Long, who has taken his side from the lower reaches of the table to title contenders in his five seasons in charge, was left to lament what could have been as their quest for a first trophy in six years was quashed.
“The plan was to set out and win something,” the Dubliner told the Dublin Gazette as the sun set on another season in which they’ve defied a massive gap in resources to compete at the top end.
“It’s nice that we are making progress, and the shortened season would indicate that, so we’ve got Europe to look forward to next year.
“But it doesn’t give me any comfort tonight when we’ve lost with the scoreline we did tonight and we’re out of the cup.”
Full-backs Anto Breslin (suspension) and Andy Lyons (injury) missed out, while playmaker Danny Mandroiu was rested after playing 90 minutes for Ireland under-21s in Luxembourg two days earlier.
Dundalk were able to introduce the likes of Oduwa, Patrick McEleney and Daniel Kelly from the bench as they prepared for another Europa League group game against Rapid Wien on Thursday.
“There’s no doubt their resources are enormous. They have the strongest budget in the league and they’re in the Europa League, and they’ve got high-quality players throughout their squad.
“They were chomping at the bit, they were very motivated. So were we, but the difference is we’ve had players leave the club, like Kris Twardek who has moved to Poland.
“The[squad have] worked extremely hard this year, and I think that’s really important to note, that when we came back [after lockdown] we started the season in outstanding form.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t repeat that level of performance tonight when we needed it against a good Dundalk side.”