Europa Conference League - first qualifying round
Bohemians v Stjarnan (Iceland)
(1-1 after first leg)
Aviva Stadium, 7.45pm
Bohemians manager Keith Long has refused to contemplate the true value of European progress. Efforts to keep a young squad focused on finishing a job started last week in Iceland has Long doing everything in his power to make the biggest game in the club's season feels like any other night.
That is practically impossible with Bohs welcoming 6,000 fans to the Aviva Stadium and training in Abbottstown on the FAI’s pitch, drawn with the same parameters as the Lansdowne Road surface.
“The only important thing for us is the performance,” said Long, “everything else is noise in the background. We won’t let it interfere”.
The north Dubliners do not budget European prize money into plans for improving the squad this winter, but progress would guarantee them €350,000 with another €550,000 if they join Shamrock Rovers – eliminated from the Champions League qualifiers by Slovan Bratisalva on Tuesday – in the third qualifying round.
Nor will they be talking about the €750,000 on offer if they make the playoff round, not to mention the life-changing €3 million for reaching the Europa League proper.
Presuming all those figures float over the players’ heads, the enormity of tonight’s occasion will still probably have sunk in during yesterday’s training session at the Aviva.
All told, the noise around these European nights will interfere with preparations. It always does.
“We got to try and make it as normal as possible,” said the 47-year-old, who was part of the St Patrick’s Athletic squad that beat Celtic in front of 57,000 at Parkhead in 1998. “All those things are the realities of the game and the prestige of the game and the money associated with going through a round, but we can’t put that on the players.
“It would be fantastic from a development perspective for the young group of players – it would be brilliant for them to make the next step in their careers, it would be a great experience, but we can’t let that experience pass us by. We got to make the most of it.”
Bohs have rapidly rebuilt their squad this season with Dawson Devoy and Scottish duo Liam Burt and Ali Coote helping Georgie Kelly to 12 goals in 19 league matches.
“The tie is very much alive on both sides,” said Long after Ross Tierney’s deflected equaliser in the first leg. “We got a result away but away goals don’t matter anymore. What matters is performance.”
Sligo Rovers v FH Hafnarfjordur (Iceland)
(Hafnarfjordur lead 1-0 after first leg)
A gritty performance in Iceland fell asunder when former Rangers and Dundalk striker Steven Lennon headed a late winner for Hafnarfjordur, and despite Greg Bolger’s suspension, for a second yellow card, Sligo Rovers are well within their rights to expect to progress this evening.
"We need to win the game so we will be attack orientated," said manager Liam Buckley. "Greg has been a serious influence on our season and he will be missed, there are no two ways about that, but we need to create more chances, we need to be more adventurous. We got some strong players coming in."
Johnny Kenny, the 18-year-old goal scorer, is expected to return from injury.
“Johnny trained this morning, he is fine. I have the option to start him or bring him off the bench. He has been effective at both, his work rate is tremendous.”