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Rory Gaffney welcomes ‘free hit’ in Champions League if Shamrock Rovers complete job against Hibernians

Hoops striker admits he was lucky to avoid red card in victory over Maltese side

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Rory Gaffney of Shamrock Rovers celebrates after scoring his side's third goal with team-mate Lee Grace against Hibernians

Rory Gaffney of Shamrock Rovers celebrates after scoring his side's third goal with team-mate Lee Grace against Hibernians

Rory Gaffney of Shamrock Rovers celebrates after scoring his side's third goal with team-mate Lee Grace against Hibernians

Rory Gaffney says Shamrock Rovers have put themselves in prime position to have a free hit at their European campaign but admitted he was lucky to escape a red card for striking out in their defeat of Maltese champions Hibernians.

Gaffney made two and scored the third in a 3-0 Tallaght Stadium win for Stephen Bradley's side that puts one foot in the second round of the Champions League qualifiers.

Progression through to that round also guarantees the Hoops three more ties, including a shot at both the Europa League and the Europa Conference League if they are knocked out of the premier competition.

Bulgarian champions Ludogorets are likely their next opponents once Rovers avoid a disaster in Malta next Tuesday.

Gaffney was the star man for Rovers, yet he acknowledged that he was fortunate to escape the maximum punishment for striking out with his boot in a second half struggle on the ground with a Hibernians defender.

The 32-year-old only received a yellow card, and said it was an accident after replays clearly showed he made contact.

"I definitely caught him, I didn't mean to," said the Galwegian.

"I thought he was on me and I was trying to get him off me but he obviously dragged me to the floor.

"I've got sent off once in my life and never meant to kick him in the face. I suppose I have kicked him but I didn't go out to kick him in the face, not at 2-0 up anyways. If I was 2-0 down then maybe."

The front man admits that the Rovers group are excited by the doors that could be opened by this victory.

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"I suppose if we take care of this tie, we kind of have a free hit at it don't we, a free run," he continued.

"All we have to do is win two games out of four (including the Hibernians game) and we make group stages isn't it?

"We want to do it, this Conference League gives us clubs a chance to get a run in Europe because it's difficult to make the Champions League and Europa League."

Rovers boss Stephen Bradley praised his players for their performance, while acknowledging a rocky spell after half time demonstrated how Hibernians - who are coming out of pre-season - can be dangerous on the counter attack.

However, Gaffney stressed that with their cushion, Rovers should be capable of operating deeper and starving them of that space in the heat of Malta.


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