Can Shamrock Rovers make Irish football history tonight? · The42

Updated 5 hours ago

Traditionally, these types of opportunities don’t come often for Irish Premier League clubs.

Competing in the group stages of the competition remains just something that has only been managed four times by Irish clubs – Dundalk in 2016 and 2020, along with Shamrock Rovers in 2011 and now.

As Rovers’ achievement has been seismic just over a decade ago in terms of its impact on Irish football on a broader level and how it has been increasingly viewed for the better, there is a strong sense that the Hoops did not fully build on this historic move at the time and turned back instead instead. And he struggled to maintain those high standards later on.

Stephen Bradley is now on a similar level again and there is a real sense of faith and confidence when it comes to evaluating this multi-titled team.

For all the euphoria of that memorable night in Belgrade and those unforgettable ten minutes when they drove at White Hart Lane, in 2011, just being on this stage was an accomplishment for Rovers.

Just as Filippo Giovannioli’s Lillywhites did nine years later, Michael O’Neill’s side lost all six of their group stage matches and their campaign ultimately fizzled out, amid disappointing 4-1, 4-0 defeats at hosts Rubin Kazan and Spurs Stadium.

But in 2016, Dundalk took the Irish side’s lead a step further. Not only did they reach the group stage of the European League, they also put points on the board.

Lillywhites started well, drawing 1-1 away to Arizona and securing Ireland’s first group stage win at home to Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Like Rovers, they looked increasingly tired as the competition progressed, subsequently losing four games in a row, but were still in contention to qualify until the last game – a narrow 1-0 home defeat to Arizona. These were further signs of progress as he showed Irish teams are increasingly capable of causing problems for teams at this level.

Stephen Bradley and Gary O’Neill didn’t say much about it Wednesday’s pre-match press conferencebut there was a distinct sense of determination in their tone.

The Rovers coach stated that playing at this level more regularly “should be our goal”. Meanwhile, O’Neill dismissed any notion that his side was already in the bonus zone, insisting “we’re in the group to be competitive” – ​​a claim backed up by last week’s difficult draw with Djurgardens in Tallaght.

However, to achieve success this evening, they will have to do something that no other Irish team has achieved – win away from home in the group stage.

So getting an Irish team to score at this level is a massive challenge, with 16 losses, two draws and one win showing starkly.

However, hoops are arguably better prepared than any of their predecessors. Bradley has put together what is surely one of the best teams in the history of the Irish League.

The credible point came last Thursday even though players of the caliber of Rory Gaffney, Jack Byrne, Ritchie Toll, Dan Cleary, Graham Burke, Sean Kavanaugh and Neil Farrugia were missing from the starting line-up, all injured or held in reserve. Who would comfortably participate in most if not all other Irish League teams.

There have also been suggestions that the sheer number of stars at the Rovers’ disposal was detrimental to their powerful ambitions, but perhaps the opposite is true.

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The end of the Irish League season coincides with the peak of the group stages, so it is no surprise that Irish teams have looked somewhat exhausted in the past, given the increasingly intense schedule they have to endure.

However, the term “team rotation” is a phrase that Bradley has repeatedly used.

He said, “I trust everyone in the group, and I believe in them.” After the Djurgardens match. “I really don’t think we have the strongest XI. To compete on all fronts, we want to win the league, we want to win the cup, and to win matches in Europe, you need everyone in the team ready to play, and I think we have that.”

Highly promising youngsters, including Justin Verizage and Jadon Tetteh, were among those who benefited from the director’s refusal to stick too tightly to certain individuals.

It is therefore an exciting time for the historically most successful Irish league. An unexpected win this evening, which defies the bookmakers’ odds of 8/1, will certainly see a spike in optimism.

The Gent v Shamrock Rovers game kicks off at 5.45pm Irish time and will be available to watch on Virgin Media Two and BT Sport 4.