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O'Donnell: No great gulf for Hoops

BEATEN three times, but not beaten out of sight. That's the lie of the land for Shamrock Rovers at the half-way point in their Europa League campaign, writes Aidan Fitzmaurice.

The Dublin club have lost three times but not been disgraced at any stage, and especially away from home have shown a clear ability to play at this level and a willingness to have a go at teams, as evidenced by their achievement in scoring away to Tottenham and PAOK.

Rovers midfielder Stephen O'Donnell (pictured) admits that the Dublin side -- and the league in this country -- are still behind the likes of PAOK, but believes that the gap is narrowing and for the Galway-born player, the aim for the second half of the European campaign is to use home advantage to get some points on the board. "We are nearly there. We want to show that Irish teams can deliver and compete," says O'Donnell, Rovers arriving back in Dublin last night after their exertions in Thessalonika on Thursday and then a full day's travelling, via Budapest, yesterday.

"You can see in games that we match teams for periods, but you can also see that teams like PAOK and Rubin Kazan can step up a gear when they want to. They have a real quality about them and that shows in the matches.

"Their budget and wage bills are far in excess of what we have in Ireland, so of course when they are paying that kind of money for players they are going to have excellent players. It's a different culture in a league like the Greek championship and a team like PAOK. Their movement and the quality of their passing is something else and something we can aspire to.

"It's an area where Irish football has to catch up, but we have a lot of talented footballers in this squad and we aim to show that in the next three games," added O'Donnell, who insists that the squad are fed up with hard-luck stories and moral victories.

"We're at the stage now where we don't want to be known as unlucky losers, we want to start picking up points," he said.

"These games have opened our eyes, shown us that we can compete at this level."

Rovers put aside their Euro-vision and get back to basics now as they prepare for Monday's game away to UCD: last night's win for Sligo Rovers away to Bohemians means that Sligo can still nick the title from Michael O'Neill's men but a win in UCD on Monday will end all discussion and allow Rovers to retain a league title for the first time since 1987.