DESPITE the virtual collapse of full-time football here, Irish clubs may never have a better opportunity than now to make the European breakthrough. The draws for next season’s cup competitions have put the group stages of the Champions League and Europa League within sight of Ireland’s participants.
Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and St. Patrick’s Athletic have all been seeded in their respective competitions but it is the Bit O’Red who are pinching themselves. FAI Cup holders Sligo Rovers will enter the Europa League at the third round putting them agonisingly close to the lucrative group stages.
Shamrock Rovers will be seeded in the second qualifying round of the Champions League. The Hoops will face one of 17 teams from countries including Moldova, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Wales, Faroe Islands and Northern Ireland. If they prevail, they will have at least four extra games including a potential play-off for the Europa League.
St. Patrick’s Athletic are seeded for both the first and second rounds of the Europa League while Bohs are seeded in the second round.
But it is the men from the west who are tantalisingly placed on the cusp of the unthinkable.
As a direct result of FC Porto’s Europa League triumph in the Aviva Stadium and the fact that they have already qualified for the Champions League, the Portuguese side’s position in the secondary competition was vacant. Ireland’s 29th place in the UEFA leagues’ ratings means our FAI Cup winners will bypass two rounds of European competition for the first time in history.
Despite the turmoil of recent seasons, the Airtricity League sides are benefiting from one legacy of the dream-chasing era that almost scuppered the country’s biggest clubs. The eye-catching results in Europe are paying dividends with our improved rankings.
They may no-longer be full-time outfits but should luck be on their on their side, the big-time could beckon for our European representatives.
The draw for the Champions League and Europa league 1st and 2nd qualifying rounds takes place on June 20.
The draw for the Europa League 3rd qualifying round takes place on July 15.