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False dawn leaves us in the dark ages

There was a lot of delusional bollocks written when Shamrock Rovers qualified for the group stages of the Europa League. I should know, I wrote some of it.

But, after Spurs brought down the curtain on the Dublin team's European adventure with a 4-0 hammering on Thursday night, what were we left with?

After all the talk of a historic breakthrough for the League of Ireland and suggestions that Shams might give a good account of themselves against Europe's almost elite, Michael O'Neill's team ended up with the lowest points total (0), the joint lowest total of goals scored (4), the highest number of goals conceded (19) and the worst goal difference (-15).

A campaign which was supposed to show how the League of Ireland had improved only ended up displaying its inadequacies.

On reflection, it appears that Partizan Belgrade may have been the only team Shams would have been able to beat in the play-off round. The FC Copenhagen team, which scored a comprehensive 3-0 win over them in the Champions League, were themselves only able to win one match out of six in their Europa League group. The dream of a League of Ireland team proving competitive in Europe looks more foolish than ever now.

And so does the much-propounded notion that the standard of the domestic game is improving. Shams lost 7-1 on aggregate to somewhat less than full strength Spurs teams but back in 1981 the Tottenham team of Hoddle, Ardiles, Crooks et al could only defeat Dundalk 2-1 over two legs. That Dundalk outfit also held Celtic to 3-2 and Porto to 1-0 on aggregate.

They weren't alone. The Everton side which went on to win the Cup Winners' Cup scraped past UCD 1-0 over two legs in 1984, while the following year Bohemians were very unlucky to lose 4-3 on aggregate to Rangers. It's a far cry from getting whaled 7-1 by Rubin Kazan.

Back in 1966 there was even a League of Ireland team good enough to get within a couple of minutes of making the Cup Winners' Cup quarter-finals by knocking out eventual winners Bayern Munich, who had Beckenbauer, Maier and Muller on board.

Their name? Shamrock Rovers.

Sunday Indo Sport