Shamrock Rovers hoping for a fast start to European odyssey

Stephen Bradley’s side welcome Finnish side Ilves to Tallaght for Europa League qualifier

Aaron McEneff and Jack Byrne train ahead of Shamrock Rovers’ clash with Ilves of Finland. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Aaron McEneff and Jack Byrne train ahead of Shamrock Rovers’ clash with Ilves of Finland. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Europa League first qualifying round: Shamrock Rovers v Ilves Tempere (Finland), Thursday August 27th (kick-off 8pm)

The process of perfecting a game plan for Europe has become that little bit more difficult due to coronavirus and the resulting travel restrictions but Stephen Bradley says he has seen enough of Ilves Tampere to be wary, especially after their 3-1 win at the weekend which was, he reckons, their best performance of the season so far.

If that’s the case, then the Finnish club’s improvement comes just as Shamrock Rovers have suddenly started struggle slightly in front of goal, but Bradley believes finishing will not be a key factor as long as his side plays the way he believes it can in Tallaght on Thursday night (kick off 8pm, live stream available via shamrockrovers.ie at a cost of €10).

“I think our record in Europe has been brilliant,” says the Rovers boss who will be without Sean Kavanagh and Lee Grace through injury and suspension respectively. “We’ve scored home and away and I don’t see this being any different. And creating chances is definitely not a problem.”

That said, he says, “I don’t think Irish clubs or clubs in general can approach any European game thinking it’s an easy game. I think as soon as you think that you’re in trouble.

“Do we look at certain teams and certain draws and think you’d want that one? Of course you do. Because certain teams are made to play against you the way they set up, the players they have in their team but I don’t think anyone can think ‘We’ve got a nice draw here. . .’”

It is clearly not, on the other hand, the most daunting draw imaginable. Ilves, who won the Finnish Cup last season, are a decent team, stocked with plenty of Under-21 internationals and a couple of senior ones but they have won just four of 11 league games this year, and while they score quite a few goals they concede even more, something that clearly costs them on occasion.

On Saturday, though, they won 3-1 against a Lahti side that beat them 3-2 a few weeks back and their supporters will have been pleased to see 23-year-old Lauri Ala Myllmaki get his third of the campaign as he averaged a goal every second game in 2019 but has started a little more slowly this time around. Ilari Mettala, meanwhile, got his third in five games and so must also be regarded as a threat.

The record of their relatively few appearances in Europe down the years is modest enough although four of their six exits down the years are accounted for by Feyenoord, Juventus, Rangers and Roma. On the one and only occasion they made it through a round it was against Irish opposition, Glenavon, but that almost 30 years ago.

“Saturday they were very good,” says Bradley, in any case. It was probably the best that they have been this year.”

The single game nature of the tie, he suggests, is bound to impact on everyone’s perspective but, he says, “I don’t think it will change them, I think their strengths are in transition. They’ve played like that on Saturday and in a lot of big games. I don’t think it will change their mentality but overall it makes it more exciting and when you get those chances you’ve got to take them.”

That last bit has been an issue for Rovers in their most recent games and for Irish clubs in Europe all down the years. If it is again on this occasion then Ilves appear to have enough about them to ensure this ends up being another disappointment for Bradley, his players and the Irish club game.

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