St Patrick’s Athletic one game away from financial windfall

Buckley’s side up against serious opposition but benefits of progression hit home

Uefa Champions League Second qualifying round, second leg St Patrick’s Athletic (1) v Legia Warsaw (1) Tallaght Stadium, Wednesday, 7,45pm

They are, their manager says cautiously, "in with a chance" but Liam Buckley and his players know they have a fair bit still to do if they are to get past Legia Warsaw tonight and secure a lucrative third-round tie against Celtic who beat KR Reykjavik 4-0 last night.

A moment’s lapse in concentration last year cost them dearly against Zalgiris of Vilnius and Buckley still rattles off the names of the clubs the Lithuanians went on to beat.

The Dubliners’ chance to progress, he recalls, evaporated “in the blink of an eye,” and avoiding a similar sort of fate in Tallaght tonight will be the first target for a team that showed last week they can compete at this level when they click.

Doing it for 90 minutes against opponents of this calibre is never easy but simply blowing what they achieved last week would be the most bitter of disappointments now.

Victory, on the other hand, would almost certainly mean a windfall for the Dublin club in excess of €1 million. Prize money accounting for at least three quarters of that and a sell out game at the Aviva against Celtic anything up to as much as that again.

Time and again, Buckley acknowledges that there’s a lot there to play for alright but then he also repeatedly reminds everyone within earshot that the club might as easily “be out of the competition by 10 o’clock” tonight.

Critically, he points out: “We don’t have to go chasing them tomorrow. They have to score and the onus is on them to have a gameplan to break us down.”

The one-all draw the Dubliners did so well to secure last Wednesday night does indeed give them something to defend but it is a slender enough advantage to hold at the halfway point of an encounter with a club whose squad for the first game included 10 full internationals, seven of whom started.

No reason

They certainly have no reason to feel the tie is beyond them. Almost a third of teams in Legia’s position over the course of the two European competitions’ early knockout stages last year ended up going through and the Poles both won and lost last season after getting themselves to where St Patrick’s are just now with tonight’s visitors holding Molde to a scoreless draw but then suffering elimination themselves when they could only manage a second leg 2-2 draw at home to Steaua Bucharest.

Buckley says he is mulling over his options with regard to how best to secure a result that will get his team through but it is hard to imagine he will change too much.

Killian Brennan continues to struggle slightly with a knee problem but seems certain to start and the manager will most likely look to Keith Fahey and Greg Bolger to anchor the midfield again. The former's ability and experience is obviously a crucial asset but the latter was impressive in Warsaw too and the Dubliners could do with him being as good this time out as well.

A much changed Legia team lost their opening league game of the season over the weekend but manager Henning Berg admits that this game was his priority as he picked the line up for that one, and with a couple of players returning from injury, he insists, his side should be in slightly better shape for this second-leg tie.

Their Portuguese striker Orlando Sa is ruled out by the injury sustained when he was challenged by Ken Oman in the opening stages of the first game but the former Blackburn and Manchester United defender says he has confidence in the players that are available even if, he says, they are in for a tough game.

Giving them that is the absolute minimum St Patrick’s will be looking to do and if they play as well as they did a week ago, then there is certainly the potential to do a good deal more.

With at least one more outing in the Europa League guaranteed even if they do lose in the next round of this competition, the rewards are potentially huge. So too, they must remember, however, is the remaining challenge.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is an Assistant News Editor at The Irish Times