Shamrock Rovers defender Lee Grace admits the Hoops can’t afford to go another season without challenging the best teams in the country.
Rovers currently sit 24 points behind league leaders Dundalk, and 12 behind Cork City, with four games to play.
To compound that, they were knocked out of the FAI Cup in the first round by First Division Drogheda United – meaning their wait for a 25th cup crown will stretch to 28 years.
Grace was sent off in that game in Drogheda, but the Hoops have finished the season well with six wins from their last seven games putting them in the frame for a European spot.
That’s far from guaranteed with Waterford – who sit two points behind Rovers in fourth – to visit Tallaght in the second-to-last game of the season.
Despite his red card in the cup, Grace has been one of Rovers’ most consistent performers in the heart of defence, but he insists it counts for little when they’re not challenging.
“On a personal level I’m happy enough but on a team level, it’s not good enough to be fair,” Grace told the Dublin Gazette at the launch of FIFA 19 in the Aviva Stadium.
“We want to be challenging this year at least for first or second spot. The patch in the middle of the season kind of killed us.
“We got on a bad run of form, but we’re after getting it together in the last few weeks and we’ll just try and finish the season strong.”
Third place – and possibly fourth depending on whether Dundalk or Cork win the cup – would be enough for a European spot but for Grace it’s more about finishing as high as possible.
“It’s not Europe we’re looking for, it’s third. It’s the highest possible position we can. We’re aiming for third and it’s a shootout between ourselves and Waterford now.
“It’s going to be a good end to the season. We’ve finished the last two seasons strongly. Last season we were nine points behind Derry with a few games to go and we eventually caught them.
“It’s the same this year with Waterford. The big games look after themselves, the Corks and Dundalks and Waterford this year.
“They look after themselves because you can get yourself up for them. It’s the lesser teams. It’s the lesser teams that are killing us.”