Sport Soccer

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Burnley's Euro run bodes well for Ireland

Sean Dyche: ‘The fans were screaming for Europe last season so at least we are trying to give them a bit of it’. Photo: PA
Sean Dyche: ‘The fans were screaming for Europe last season so at least we are trying to give them a bit of it’. Photo: PA

Colin Young

Turf Moor has seen nothing like it for more than half a century. Late Thursday night, last-gasp European drama to knock out a team from Turkey. No wonder Sean Dyche and the Burnley faithful have a taste for the Europa League and want more.

Jack Cork's extra-time winner against Istanbul Basaksehir, whose side included former Arsenal and Manchester City striker Emmanuel Adebayor, means Burnley are now just two games away from the group phase of UEFA's secondary competition. It is certainly not as lucrative as the Champions League but it could be a significant development in the Burnley story.

The next instalment of the Lancashire club's steady and remarkable rise will be in Greece this week where Burnley face Olympiakos, one of the better seeded teams in the Europa League, who thrashed Lucerne of Switzerland 7-1 on aggregate in the last round. But one more win over two legs in this next fortnight and Burnley will be among the 48 teams in the group draw in Nyon on August 31.

This can only be good news for Martin O'Neill and the Republic of Ireland squad as they look forward to a return to competitive action next month against Wales and Denmark in UEFA's new international competition, the Nations League.

Stephen Ward may be contemplating retirement from his Ireland duties, but the experienced left-back has played in three of Burnley's four Europa League ties against Istanbul Basaksehir and Aberdeen, as well as last weekend's goalless Premier League opener at Southampton. He will face Watford at Turf Moor in the return to league action today.

Midfielder Jeff Hendrick, whose assist handed Cork his second European goal of this adventure, has also missed only one of these early-season encounters while Jon Walters, back from the knee injury which curtailed his involvement for club and country last season, started in the first leg in Turkey earlier in the month.

Centre-back Kevin Long returned to the Burnley line-up for this week's second leg to partner Ben Gibson, one of Dyche's shrewd summer signings, added to bolster his squad to cope with the demands of Premier League and European campaigns. Robbie Brady and teenager Jimmy Dunne have yet to feature.

Dyche, who is entering his seventh season at Turf Moor, has made no secret of his desire to fulfil the rewards of last season's surprise seventh with a good European run. But the Premier League, in which Burnley are now in their third successive season, will remain the priority.

"The fans were screaming for Europe last season so at least we are trying to give them a bit of it, that's for sure," he said. "I am sure Olympiakos will be a good side. We are in the competition as novices and so far the novices are doing OK.

"We have already come across a good side in Aberdeen, for different reasons, and there was a lot made of the Battle of Britain, and all that nonsense. Then we play Istanbul Basaksehir, who were a different challenge with their signings and players they've got and now we go to the next one and we will see what we make of it.

"We have never denied it, and I certainly haven't, but the Premier League remains the focus. We have got to make sure everyone comes through for that and make sure that we have a competitive squad every time we go out. The league still maintains the focus for us but we have a group that is very high in its standards and we are moulding a good side with every day's work and prep time. Our performances have been very good so far, and although we are still waiting for players to get fit, you can see there is no lack of a will to win.

"I see a very motivated group of players running hard all the way through games and extra-time. We scored in the 97th minute from a good press against a good side who finished joint second in the Turkish league last season who have internationals and a high calibre of players. We earned the right to win the game.

"We are a work in progress in the top third of the pitch which is always the hardest area, particularly in the Premier League. You are playing against very good sides and when you think people are now buying goalkeepers for £70 million and centre-halves for 50, 60, £70 million, there is a reason for that; they are very good at what they do.

"But it makes it very difficult in the final third and you have to be clinical, precise and calm and that is a continual work in progress for us. The rest of the pitch, I think we are very good at. We are organised, we know how to work, we know how to sit in, keep shape and not get flummoxed. We make sure we stick to what we are good at and we deliver but we still have moments of quality that can win a match because we could not get to where we are without that.

"We are still searching for the balance of how much we dominate the ball and stay in the game when we need to and there were times when we have had to stay in the game, but we have had to do that many times since we have been here over the six years and people have been saying that to us for ages. They had more of the ball, they had this, we had that, we have been hearing all that for years."

There have been 12 English club victories in the three guises of the Europa League - although UEFA officially do not recognise the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup which preceded the UEFA Cup from 1958 to 1971 and was won in the last four years by English teams. They won the UEFA Cup six times, including a record three by Liverpool, and since its change in format, and the incentive of a Champions League place for the winners, Manchester United and Chelsea have lifted it.

But it can turn out to be a lot of fuss and hassle for nothing. The Europa League, with its Thursday-Sunday routine and trips into the darker, unknown corners of Europe - such as Burnley - can have a detrimental impact on a team's season.

In the days when they qualified for Europe, Newcastle were in relegation fights under Alan Pardew and Graeme Souness in their pointless pursuit of European glory. Liverpool finished eighth in the Premier League when they were runners-up to Sevilla two years ago and when Fulham achieved the same in the Europa League's inaugural season, they were 12th.

The bigger clubs cope much better with the competition's demands. Burnley and their supporters may be happy just to be in there if they can knock Olympiakos out this month, but Dyche is a manager who wants much more than mere participation.

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