Where no Irish team had dared go before
Published 25/12/2011 | 05:00
Shamrock Rovers qualify for Europa League group stages
It's hard to make retaining a League title look comparatively insignificant, but Shamrock Rovers' win on August 25 managed to do just that.
Reflecting on the year they had, one result stands alone. Partizan Belgrade left Tallaght the previous week with an away goal, adding greater difficulty to a task which few would have considered possible. Somehow, the disparity in the wealth of both clubs, the heat of Belgrade and the ferocity of the home support were all overcome. Pat Sullivan's wonder-goal and a Stephen O'Donnell penalty earned the club prize-money of €1m, greater than any amount won by any Irish club in the past.
It was something very few people ever expected to see. In fact, I never believed those who said they did. To have the League of Ireland represented in the group stages of one of the major European competitions was the most unlikely of sights, but all the more impressive given the sensible and prudent policies adopted by the Rovers hierarchy at the time. That just added to the enormity of the feat.
Unlike others who have gone before them, Shamrock Rovers did not put their future at risk in pursuit of progress in Europe.
It was heralded at the time as the much-needed breakthrough for the League on the European stage, but that suggests it has paved the way for others to follow. While it has certainly helped the overall co-efficient of the League, the financial realities of doing business in Ireland these days probably means it won't be repeated for some time.
That's a challenge for another day, but the 2-1 victory in Belgrade was one of the greatest in the history of the game in this country. The manager and much of the squad have already moved on, but their achievement remains, not lessened in any way by their failure to win any of the subsequent games in the competition.
Managing expectation levels next year will be a challenge for the club, but that's a price I'm sure they'll happily pay.
Sunday Indo Sport