Positive Cork display needed to boost morale
For the Irish in Europe, it has been a year devoid of a night to remember and Cork City are the last club standing with a chance of providing it.
They kick off their third round Europa League qualifier with Rosenborg in Turner's Cross this evening as the underdogs, a familiar role for the League of Ireland club.
Maybe it will always be thus when facing an opponent with Champions League pedigree - albeit it's 11 years since the Norwegians reached the group stages of the big one - but it has been a slightly underwhelming summer for our representatives.
Dundalk's Europa League thrashing in Cyprus last week was the big disappointment. Unseeded Derry and Shamrock Rovers both exited that competition at the first hurdle against better resourced teams who were strongly fancied to advance, although they both actually registered second leg 90 minute wins away from home to go down fighting.
Rovers brought Swedish league leaders AIK Solna to extra-time, with their Stockholm showing the pick of the Irish displays to date, yet it still goes down as a missed opportunity.
Success on the European stage is essential for breaking into the public consciousness for the right reasons, but the struggles of Bray and Limerick made more waves than the exploits of the League of Ireland representatives on foreign fields.
Cork have benefited from a new parachute to get the opportunity to change that. They lost 4-0 over two legs to Legia Warsaw in their maiden Champions League tie, but sides who exit at that stage now get another chance in the Europa League and a bye helped Cork to leapfrog the second round to reach this round.
The hope is that the Warsaw experience has sharpened them up for their clash with a Rosenborg side that suffered a 3-1 aggregate defeat to Celtic to end up in the second tier tournament.
Our league could do with the morale boost. Dundalk did at least win a tie against Estonian side Levadia Tallinn before shipping four in Larnaca seven days ago, a dreadful time to throw in their poorest performance in Europe under Stephen Kenny.
To use that result as a stick to beat the entire league with is as flawed as pointing to Dundalk's 2016 achievements as an example of collective rude health.
It's much more nuanced than that. What remains true is that Irish outfits need to perform at their absolute maximum to progress; they will be found out if they drop below.
The problem is that the week to week fare at home might just be too forgiving.
For the fifth year in a row, Dundalk and Cork are battling it out for the title race. Any pre-season chatter about the pack closing in was miles off the mark.
As it stands, Cork are two clear of Dundalk with the Lilywhites - who crucially have two games in hand - 20 points clear of third-placed Waterford. Dundalk have won 20 from 26. Cork have won 21 out of 28 games.
They are impressive tallies, yet you would struggle to find a City fan who believes they have truly excelled this term - they were a superior operation with Sean Maguire up top.
Dundalk have performed better overall, but they have not set the world alight either, winning a number of matches without hitting top gear.
It presents a slightly troubling juxtaposition. Regular European qualification and the associated funds is widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
However, the lack of strength in depth at home means they are not getting enough matches of a really high quality to truly prepare them for the step up against seasoned European opponents.
Cork struggled to land a glove on Warsaw in Poland but were competitive in the Turner's Cross leg and are capable of giving Rosenborg problems.
The Leesiders produced arguably their best away display of the campaign to prevail in Waterford on Friday so confidence levels should be high.
Rosenborg, by contrast, have suffered an up and down campaign and arrive in Cork without a manager after the shock sacking of the popular Kare Ingebrigsten before the Celtic tie.
They trail Brann in the title race and have vulnerabilities. Dundalk brought them to extra-time in Norway last year.
Still, they have a seasoned squad of internationals - with Nicklas Bendtner the marquee name - and will be confident of progression.
"In their first game at Celtic Park, they could have been two up at half-time," said Cork assistant John Cotter yesterday, "Celtic were a different side the second half. But they looked very good, very quick on the break and they are fit and mid-season. They will be a test for us. With the crowd behind us, we can put on a good show."
- Cork City v Rosenborg, Live, RTÉ2, 7.45