Saturday 16 December 2017

Kenny hoping for kind draw to launch Rovers' latest Euro odyssey

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

HERE they go again, but how do Shamrock Rovers follow an unforgettable European adventure?

A year ago, the Hoops went into the pot for the draw for the second round of the Champions League unaware of the riches and memorable nights that awaited them.

Their run would last into the Europa League, until Christmas, taking in Tallinn, Copenhagen, Belgrade, Kazan, London and Thessalonica along the way. It was a year that will live long in the memory in Dublin 24, and one that has given them a financial solidity that their rivals can only dream of; now it is up to Stephen Kenny and his 2012 side to create a new story.

After such success, it is hard to believe that Rovers will not be seeded in today's draw in Nyon.

Chelsea's victory over Bayern Munich in last year's final caused a ripple effect that caused the Irish champions, who were on the borderline, to drop below the watermark and become second seeds.

They are now expected to face either Swedish champions Helsingborgs, Finns HJK Helsinki, Lithuania's Ekranas, Latvia's FK Ventspils, Belarus' BATE Borisov and Polish league winners Slask Wroclaw when UEFA confirm the regionalisation of the draw, which starts at 11.0 this morning.

Kenny oversaw one of the league's finest European performances when his Bohemians team crushed BATE 3-0 in Dalymount back in 2003, but the second seeds have improved drastically since and reached the group stages last season, where they faced Barcelona and AC Milan, with whom they drew at home.

They are the team nobody wants to face, with the others looking tough but manageable. Getting through this round is crucial as a third-round spot guarantees a minimum of two more ties, with the losers dropping into the Europa League.

"Not being seeded is a major disadvantage," Kenny admitted. "Nevertheless, we will see who we draw and we want to be playing in Europe. They are the big games, the reason that players want to come to Shamrock Rovers.

"I have managed 16 games in Europe. They are the pinnacle and you want more, you don't want just one round. We have our work cut out, but just because a team is ranked above us doesn't mean we fear them."

After Rovers find out their fate, it will be the turn of the Europa League contenders to enter the pot, with Sligo -- who added former Ireland underage international and Derby midfielder Ryan Connolly to their squad at the weekend -- entering the competition in Round Two and Bohs and St Pat's going into Round One.

UEFA will not confirm regionalisation until just before the draw at 12.0, but it is likely that they will go into the same hat as representatives from Wales, Northern Ireland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Finland and the Faroe Islands.

Both clubs are hoping for a kind draw. "You want somewhere you can get to fairly easily, number one," Bohs boss Aaron Callaghan admitted.

"I think having been a coach at St Pat's last year, we ended up in Iceland, Kazakhstan and Ukraine and it certainly hit the club financially."

That Pat's run ended in acrimony when the players threatened a strike over bonuses that nearly brought the club to its knees before their home tie against Karpaty Lviv at Tallaght. Liam Buckley is confident there won't be a repeat scenario this year.

"We're running along smoothly and we've got everything organised. I don't see an issue or a problem there," he said.

"There wouldn't be a player who was here last year that would say anything negative about winning against a team from Iceland or winning against a team from Kazakhstan.

"They were tremendous victories and a reason why we potentially could be seeded for two rounds this year."

Irish Independent

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