Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk all looking to progress in Europe

Final qualifier for Europa Conference League is the prize on offer in second legs

Third qualifying round, second legs (all kick-off times Irish)

PAOK (1) v Bohemians (2), Toumba stadium, 6pm

The Toumba or 'Black Hell,' to give it the local name, will be shaking with 26,000 vaccinated Thessalonikians from early evening. As a scorching sun begins to slowly set, there will be no getting passed the fact that these Greek giants are out for revenge having been slated for losing to a club painted as part-timers. Of course, in the case of Bohs captain Keith Buckley this is factually correct, as he also does some decorating.

"The difference from the first game is we need to be a bit more serious," said PAOK captain José Crespo, who missed the Aviva stadium experience due to injury. "We need to avoid easy mistakes, but we have the quality and the potential to be really good."

The Spanish centre half is fully aware that failure for PAOK to progress would be catastrophic.

“We have to be confidant, not be arrogant, because if we are arrogant we will have problems.”


They really are trying, but a club stacked full of internationals still conveyed a condescending tone while attempting to do the exact opposite.

There were thousands queuing outside the press conference on Wednesday as people finally return to stadiums in Greece, so it promises to be an experience that Dawson Devoy and the other teenagers in Keith Long's squad will always remember. Most of them have never played in front of a real crowd.

"Maybe some people outside of the country look down on Irish football but we've a lot of quality in the league," said Ross Tierney. "I think the Irish game is going in the right direction."

Tonight’s results will tell no lies. From the off, Bohs will be under the pump.

Teuta Durrës (0) v Shamrock Rovers (1), Elbasan Arena, 7pm

If searing temperatures sucked all the energy from Shamrock Rovers in Bratislava last month, which it did, an Albanian beach town will hardly offer much respite.

"Yesterday was really hot, late 30s, today is hot but cloudy and tomorrow is supposed to be really, really sunny, I sound like the weatherman here," said Rovers manager Stephen Bradley ahead of a fascinating second leg. "It is obviously going to be hot. We just have to manage the game at the right times, which I am sure we will, we are an experienced team in Europe."

Aidomo Emakhu has zero exposure to Europa away games but the 17-year-old only needed nine minutes to blast an injury-time winner last Thursday. Emakhu's athleticism will almost certainly come in handy when Rory Gaffney is gasping for oxygen around 70 minutes. The teenager is already receiving interest from the Nigerian FA about his availability as Irish football must combat an alternative career option for players born to African parents.

Perhaps it is better that Emakhu continues to create waves away from prying eyes. RTÉ and Rovers are in talks to show the next round against Omonoia of Cyprus, meaning more meteorology for Bradley, as they really should progress after the petty and ineffective gamesmanship Teuta brought to Tallaght.

The national broadcaster remains adamant that the demand is too low to provide live coverage of these intriguing European nights. What a pity, because Emakhu, even nine minutes of him, deserves the spotlight.

Dundalk (2) v Vitesse (2), Tallaght stadium, 8pm

Lessons aplenty from the GelreDome. Do not, for example, concede an early goal from a corner. Especially if your team is taking said corner. Do not panic at 1-0 down either, even when the Dutch are creating as many chances as their countrymen conspired to miss at Lansdowne Road in 2002, because anything is possible when Patrick McEleney is in such expressive form.

The Derry native will be sorely missed when he returns home next season. At least Dundalk fans will always have last week's headed equaliser and sumptuous second goal. The chip that made qualification to the group stages seem possible – well, until Lois Openda levelled matters – does heap pressure on Vitesse to play all the football here.

Vinny Perth could take a leaf out of the Albanian coaching manual, as shown by Teuta Durrës against Shamrock Rovers on this ground last Thursday, by gifting their technically superior opponents the ball and shutting up shop.

Now where’s the fun in that? It does not seem to be in Perth’s nor Dundalk’s DNA. A prudent approach will be important, however, as this is an enormous opportunity for the Hulsizer family to reap some tangible rewards, like €750,000 for reaching the final elimination round, where victory over Josh Cullen’s Anderlecht would turn these six-figure Uefa pay days into multi-millions in prizemoney.

The Eredivisie outfit will probably outclass them, again, but far stranger results have happened.

“I was never so tired after a game,” said Dundalk’s Faroe Islander Sonni Nattestad, “but you could see that they are still in pre-season, especially in the second half.”

Nattestad quickly added that Vitesse are the best team Dundalk have faced this season. The McEleney effect was probably just a wonderful blip.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent