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The €5million D-Day chase: Permutations and what’s next for Irish clubs in Europe

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It's all to play for in Europe for St Pat's and Shamrock Rovers

It's all to play for in Europe for St Pat's and Shamrock Rovers

It's all to play for in Europe for St Pat's and Shamrock Rovers

It was a night to remember for Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick's Athletic, as both sides recorded impressive victories in Europe. The Hoops are aiming to qualify for their first European group stage since 2011, while the Saints have never reached that stage in their history. There was disappointment for Sligo Rovers in Norway though, as the Bit O'Red's dreams look all but over after a 5-1 defeat to Viking.

The European prize money on offer is huge to League of Ireland clubs. Should Rovers and Pat’s progress, that’s at least €4.3million on the way. Here is all you need to know about where the three side's stand on their European journeys.

WHERE THEY STAND

Shamrock Rovers

The Hoops defeated North Macedonian champions Shkupi 3-1 in Tallaght Stadium, in the Europa League third qualifying round first-leg. Goals from Graham Burke and Dylan Watts put Rovers ahead, before a stunning late strike by Gary O’Neill earned a two-goal advantage ahead of next Thursday’s second-leg.

Should Rovers get the job done next week, they will progress to a Europa League play-off against Azerbaijan’s Qarabağ FK, or Hungary’s Ferencváros, with the first-leg away. The winners will enter the Europa League group stage and pocket €3.6 million. However, if Rovers lose the play-off, they will enter the third-tier Europa Conference League group stage and earn €3.3 million.

If Rovers are defeated by Shkupi next week however, they will face a must-win play off against Kosovo’s Ballkani and Faroese side Klaksvik to make the Europa Conference League group stage.

If the Hoops qualify for the Europa League group stages, they are guaranteed six games with even more prize money on offer. Each group stage win will earn €630,000, while each draw is worth €210,000. First in the group earns a further €1.1 million and a last 16 place, and second in the group is worth €550,000 and a play-off to reach the last 16 phase.

WHAT THEY SAID

Stephen Bradley: "I think teams across Europe respect us a lot more. I'm delighted St Pat's have won, and we won. I know Sligo had a tough night, but I think teams in Europe respect us a lot more. It shows the league is going in the right direction. It's been a good year so far and hopefully both of us can keep it going."

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ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC

The Saints put last weekend’s FAI Cup exit behind them and produced a stunning performance, defeating Bulgaria’s CSKA Sofia 1-0 on their home patch. Serge Atakayi’s late winner secured St Pat’s first European away win since 2009, as they take a one-goal advantage to Tallaght Stadium for next week’s second-leg.

If Tim Clancy’s side progress past CSKA next week, they will face Brondby of Denmark, or Swiss outfit FC Basel in the Conference League play-off, and a guaranteed €1 million. Like Shamrock Rovers, qualification for the Conference League group stage will earn St Pat's at least €3.3 million.

Should CSKA eliminate St Pat’s next week, the Inchicore side will still pocket €750,000. St Pat’s have never qualified for a European group stage before, coming closest in a Europa League play-off defeat to Steaua București in 2009.

Should Pat’s make the Conference League group stages, each win there will earn them €500,000, while each draw brings in €166,000. A first-place finish in the group is worth €650,000 and a last 16 place, while second is worth €325,000 and a play-off to reach the last 16.

WHAY THEY SAID

Tim Clancy: “It was a perfect night for us. From the start to the finish, every player was brilliant. The game was getting stretched. Thankfully Serge got on the end of a short back-pass, slotted it home and got us the win. He feels on top of the world because he’s after getting one of the best results there has been from an Irish club in Europe. Certainly, it gives us a little more belief going into next Thursday. For us to get through is going to take an effort from everyone.”

SLIGO ROVERS

The Bit O’Red were unable to follow Shamrock Rovers and St Pat’s exploits, as they were defeated 5-1 by Norway’s Viking in the Europa League third qualifying round first-leg. Captain David Cawley’s penalty pulled one back late on, but Sligo’s European journey looks all but over.

Sligo progressed through two European rounds for the first time in their history this summer, after wins over Wales’ Bala Town and Scotland’s Motherwell. Should John Russell’s side stage an unlikely comeback, they will earn €1.15 million and face either Slovakia’s Dunajská Streda, or Romania’s FCSB in the Conference League play-off. Defeat at the Showgrounds next Thursday will still see them bank €850,000.

WHAT THEY SAID 

John Russell: "I knew they were going to be a serious team. You still want to come in and have a game plan and try put it up to them. The scoreline is not a nice reflection on the group, I can't fault the effort from my players. There's huge learnings and we need to take that going forward as a group."

How have League of Ireland clubs fared in Europe in the past?

League of Ireland clubs have only qualified for a European group stage on three occasions.

In 2011, a Europa League play-off victory against Partizan Belgrade earned Shamrock Rovers a group stage spot, where they lost all six games, finishing fourth, behind Tottenham Hotspur, Rubin Kazan and PAOK.

In 2016, current Ireland manager Stephen Kenny took Dundalk to the Europa League group stage after they lost a Champions League play-off with Legia Warsaw. The Lilywhites became the first Irish club to win a match at that level, beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 1-0. Dundalk finished fourth after taking four points from the six group games.

Dundalk returned to the Europa League group stage in 2020, after a play-off victory against Faroese side KÍ. Jordan Flores and Sean Hoare found the net against Arsenal at the Aviva Stadium in a 4-2 defeat, as Dundalk lost their six group games against the Gunners, Rapid Wien and Molde.

What is the Europa Conference League?

The Conference League was introduced by UEFA in 2021 as Europe’s third-tier club competition. No team qualifies directly for the group stage, as participants are made up of qualifier winners and Europa League play-off losers. Jose Mourinho’s Roma won the inaugural Conference League in May, defeating Feyenoord 1-0 in the final, and securing a Europa League spot for the following season.


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