Europa League: Local hero McCabe produces magic for Shamrock Rovers
Shamrock Rvs 1 Partizan Belgrade 1: Shamrock Rovers needed the half-time whistle, but produced a courageous second-half display to leave Partizan Belgrade gasping for the final blow.
They face a mountainous task in Serbia next Thursday, yet they can at least travel with hope of qualifying for the Europa League group stages. For a worrying period last night, there was a shortage of that commodity.
Michael O'Neill's men could have been dead and buried at the break, if a Partizan side that started with eight internationals had taken their chances.
But the League of Ireland champions capitalised on that fortune by regrouping, throwing caution to the wind with some ambitious substitutions, and unlocking the Serbians thanks to a magical moment from the inspired Gary McCabe — a Tallaght native who lived a dream just down the road from where he grew up. That's what special European nights are made of for Irish clubs.
“There'll be high expectations on them over there,” said O'Neill. “So, hopefully we can make life difficult for them. We won in Israel last year after a 1-1 draw at home, but this will be a stiffer task.”
The irony is that the mood at the death was a contrast from the hours before this game, with the atmosphere subdued compared to the vibes before the Champions League tie with Copenhagen two weeks ago.
Partizan made a positive start and deserved their 13th-minute lead. Right-winger Nemanja Tomic, a Serbian international, had already tested Thompson with a 35-yard free before he got on the end of a Vladimir Jovancic drag-back to drill past the Jamaican.
O'Neill will be disappointed that the Serbians had little problem finding space behind left- back Enda Stevens.
The Tallaght masses hoped the setback would spur their boys into life. It eventually did happen, but not before time.