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London, Greece and (probably) Russia, here comes the mighty Hoop army of Ireland

So it wasn't all a mad dream then?

From the brink of extinction six years ago to the group stages of the Europa League with a fan-owned club and a new ground is little short of a miracle.

Those of us who watched at home could only wonder at what it must have been like in Belgrade for the 40-odd (some very odd indeed) Hoops who'd made the daunting trip to Serbia.

And there was nary a hint of a gloat from the Balkans as the texts and tweets began to gain momentum after the final whistle -- yeah, right.


Emotionally exhausted Hoops awoke yesterday, nursing hangovers and other minor war wounds -- I managed to pull a calf muscle as a result of a perfectly-executed but rather ill-advised leap into the air when the peno hit the net -- before hitting the shops and scanning the papers just to make sure that the whole thing hadn't been some mass hallucination.

And then the giddiness kicked in again as we turned on TV3 to see just who we'd be playing in the group stages of the competition.

Spurs, PAOK of Thessaloniki and Rubin Kazan of Russia.

Not the worst set of obstacles by a long way and the prospect of a game against Spurs should even rouse the interest of the barstoolers who scoff at League of Ireland football and may now finally give it some grudging respect.

A trip to Greece at the end of October sounds nice and at least we have something in common with PAOK given that they almost went bang in 2005 as well.


As for Rubin Kazan? Well, a glance at the site for the city mentions something called 'Russian Women Romance and Marriage Tours' which may appeal to some of the Hooperati, but it is in a province called Tatarstan and places which end in 'stan' are generally to be avoided, particularly when they're 500 miles from Moscow and the match is on the last day of November.

The snow-white steppes of Mother Russia proved the undoing of the Wehrmacht in late November 1942 -- but they weren't wearing the green-and-white jerseys of the mighty Shamrock Rovers.

This great, crazy, magical adventure continues . . .