Saturday 24 June 2017

Europa hero O'Donnell can't wait for battle with 'the big boys'

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

` A GROUP of Shamrock Rovers players were casually chatting about the return of the Champions League when the magnitude of their achievement in reaching the Europa League group stages truly hit them.

Stephen O'Donnell, the man who stepped up to dispatch the all-important penalty against Partizan Belgrade, was talking to colleagues Gary Twigg and Chris Turner about this week's European action.

"I was just saying, the Champions League is starting and how much I love watching it and then the Europa League and then you think: 'Oh, no, we're in it'. It's a bit surreal," smiled the midfielder.

Michael O'Neill's players have had precious little time to think about tomorrow's opener with Rubin Kazan, with a hectic schedule of domestic games meaning they only sat down to watch DVDs of the Russians yesterday.

It's almost three weeks since Galway native O'Donnell seized the moment in Serbia to cause a shock that brought the League of Ireland champions into a different stratosphere.

"I didn't realise it would be as big as what it was," he admitted. "Some people were saying it was like Italia '90. But it (the attention) will be over if we don't do ourselves justice in these games coming up. If you dine out on it, you're gone."

O'Donnell produced a strong goalscoring performance in Rovers' 1-1 draw with St Patrick's Athletic on Monday, yet he is far from guaranteed to start against Rubin. Either way, he's delighted to be involved in this adventure.

"You feel you're in the big time now, you're in with the big boys," he said. "There are a lot of millionaire Premier League players who never get to play in Europe."

•THE FAI Cup will again have four quarter-finals after Shelbourne were last night verbally informed that they would be reinstated to the competition.

After AUL side Sherrif YC were expelled for fielding an ineligible player in their 3-2 win at Tolka Park last month, Shels were denied a place in the quarter-final against Limerick as the FAI disciplinary committee opted to allow the Shannonsiders a bye into the semi-final.

Both Sheriff and Shelbourne appealed the initial decision but while Sheriff were unsuccessful, the First Division club last night won their case and will now take on Limerick.

The clash will not take place this weekend alongside the other quarter-finals as the FAI are expected to continue with the planned schedule which sees Shels host Limerick at Tolka Park in the First Division, with the cup game taking place at a future date.

Irish Independent

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