Wednesday 23 August 2017

Hungry Hoops keen to end run of early exits in Europe

Jordan Stewart celebrates after scoring Linfield’s last-minute winner against La Fiorita in the first leg of their Champions League tie at Windsor Park. Photo credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Jordan Stewart celebrates after scoring Linfield’s last-minute winner against La Fiorita in the first leg of their Champions League tie at Windsor Park. Photo credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Aidan Fitzmaurice

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Shamrock Rovers have travelled to the very edge of Europe to try and win back a place for the club at the heart of European competition.

And the Hoops squad which landed in Iceland last night after a lengthy trek from Dublin, the trip made longer by a delay in the departure of their charter flight, are determined to put right the recent wrongs on the European stage, starting with the first leg of their Europa League first round tie with Stjarnan (8.15 kick-off, Irish time).

Since Rovers made the breakthrough in Europe in 2011, winning that historic place in the group stages of the Europa League, it's been a diet of early departures - Shexits, if you will.

Frustrating

"Europe has been frustrating for us - especially last season. That felt like it was a tie we could win," said defender Dave Webster of a 3-1 aggregate loss to Finnish outfit RoPS.

"But it wasn't to be as we didn't show up, especially at home. This is a chance to put it right. It's a new squad, we have a different approach and we can do better."

Head coach Stephen Bradley oversaw training last night on the astro pitch at the small, picturesque stadium (capacity 1,200) with just one stand, 9km from the capital Reykjavik.

Bradley, who succeeded Pat Fenlon as Rovers boss in between the two legs of that defeat to RoPS, is upbeat despite concerns over the fitness of left-back Luke Byrne, who sustained a shoulder injury during training.

"You can see by the numbers who have travelled, that the supporters are excited by this group of players. They know what we are trying to build here.

"I believe in what we are trying to do and, if we keep building it right and stick to the plan,big European games will come back to Tallaght."

Bradley came to Iceland last weekend to see Stjarnan in the flesh. A relatively new club who have competed in Europe on only three occasions, their record is mixed: Stjarnan knocked out Welsh, Scottish and Polish opposition in the Europa League in 2014 but then lost heavily to the likes of Inter Milan (0-9) and Celtic (1-6).

Keeping a clean sheet away has been the big problem for Rovers in Europe of late but Bradley insisted: "If we perform like we can, we will cause them problems."

Verdict: Draw

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