Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Europa League: Shamrock Rovers in dreamland

Partizan Belgrade 1 Shamrock Rovers 2 (Shamrock Rovers win 2-3 on aggregate): Shamrock Rovers are aiming to stage their Europa League group games in Tallaght after a famous win in Belgrade which has left chairman Jonathan Roche pondering his club entering a ‘new universe.’

Stephen O'Donnell's extra-time penalty helped Michael O’Neill’s men make history as the first Irish side to reach the group stages of a European competition with a famous win over Partizan Belgrade.

Spurs, Fulham, Lazio and Udinese are now possible opponents on the horizon with the draw today. Substitute O'Donnell slid home a 113th minute spot-kick to give Rovers a 2-1 win on the night over Partizan, enough to take them through 3-2 on aggregate after last week's draw in Dublin.

Rovers were up against it when Vladimir Volkov put the home side in front in the 35th minute but Pat Sullivan fired home a 58th minute equaliser to set up the extra half hour of drama.

Roche was last night figuring out how to get to Monaco today in time for a draw that opens up mouth-watering possibilities.

Under existing Uefa regulations, the Hoops would have to move their games to the Aviva Stadium. The alternative would be to install seats at their Tallaght home.

Roche was struggling to take in the enormity of what former Northern Ireland international O'Neill and his players had achieved in the heat of the Serbian capital.

“Hopefully now, people will take everyone in Irish football — and not just us — seriously,” said Roche, who was part of the group of fans who saved Rovers from extinction back in 2005.

“Clubs like Celtic and Rangers, have gone out tonight while Shamrock Rovers are still in and representing Irish football.

“It's a massive night for the club and hopefully we can kick on from this.”

A jubilant O’Neill said: “If I'm honest I always felt it would be a step too far. We've got this squad put together for €600,000 (£530,000). They probably had players out there who'll earn that alone. I would doubt whether a club has been able to progress so far with that level of budget. But it's not just about budget. We have to try and raise the levels. And the players raised it to unbelievable levels.

“I would have been proud regardless of the result because of how they played, but to have players give what they did for the club and each other.

“You can't ask for any more than that.”

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