Last night’s 2-1 away victory over Partizan Belgrade (3-2 on aggregate) means that Shamrock Rovers [their website is under strain this morning!] have made Irish football history to go through to the group stages of the Europa League. The Hoops will find out who else will be in their group when the draw is made in Monaco later today.
With a goal from Pat Sullivan and a 112th minute penalty from Stephen O’Donnell, manager Michael O’Neill had much to be proud about. The Independent.ie reports:
The Northern Irishman was overcome with pride.
“If I’m honest, I always felt it would be a step too far,” said O’Neill, when asked about crossing the hurdle into the group stages. “We’ve got this squad put together for €600,000. They probably had players out there who’ll earn that alone.
“I would doubt whether a club has been able to progress so far with that level of budget. But it’s not just about budget. We have to try and raise the levels. And the players raised it to unbelievable levels.
According to the radio news this morning, 43 fans had travelled across to the Belgrade stadium to watch their side.
Within the stadium, the 30-40 merry souls in green and white were cordoned off in a section near the VIP area after being escorted into the grounds with the team. They were strangers in a sea of black and white.
And despite supporters being tailed by local policeman through the city before the match, the Irish players were given a strong send off after their victory.
And, for those endeavours, they will be greeted as heroes. Just like they were applauded off the pitch last night by the fans of Partizan Belgrade, who rose to acclaim the Irish visitors after booing off their own staff with the exception of Medo, the midfielder, who was ordered off for a petulant punch at the death. Overall, though, the locals’ sporting treatment of the Dubliners was at odds with their pre-match reputation.
In a minimalist match report, BBC Sport speculate about the venue of future matches:
the 16-time Irish champions are aiming to stage their group games at Tallaght Stadium but, under existing Uefa regulations, the Hoops would have to move their games to Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. The alternative would be to install seats at Tallaght.