Shamrock Rovers hoping for something just shy of a miracle

Premier Division champions have been unimpressive in Europe this summer

Europa Conference League playoff, second leg: Shamrock Rovers v Flora Tallinn (Estonia), Tallaght stadium, 7.45pm - Live RTÉ Two (Flora lead 4-2 from first leg)

Some simple arithmetic ahead of Flora Tallinn’s visit to Tallaght; Shamrock Rovers would bank €110,000 for retaining their League of Ireland title but if they somehow manage to overturn a 4-2 deficit tonight, in front of 3,500 fans, every European victory thereafter is worth a cool €500,000.

That’s what a winter of Europa Conference League action is worth on top of the €3 million windfall for qualifying.

Such eye-popping figures make last week's defensive collapse in the Estonian capital seem so "terrible," "uncharacteristic," and all the other adjectives Stephen Bradley has used in the aftermath.

The easy assumption is that Rovers can channel their disgust with themselves after slumping on live television – RTÉ replaces Virgin Media tonight – into a signature performance.


“No, you can’t have anger,” cautioned the Zen-like Rovers manager. “You’ve got to understand what happened, sit down review it, learn from it. Make sure you move on, it’s done. You can’t change it but you can’t have anger because anger stops you from progressing and learning.”

Maybe so, but Rovers have been unimpressive on European fields when it really mattered this summer. In July they were lucky to lose 2-0 away to Slovan Bratislava before a Vladimir Weiss goal ended their Champions League interests in a thrilling 3-2 aggregate defeat.

No Irish club has ever flipped a two goal deficit in Europe and the continued absence of defender Lee Grace is hardly offset by the return of Aidomo Emakhu. The 17-year-old striker did score a late winner to beat Durrës of Albania in the last round after an inspirational run into the box by Danny Mandroiu.

Interestingly, Bradley benched Mandroiu in Tallinn and while Graham Burke grabbed a vital goal, the man tasked with filling Jack Byrne’s boots came on and hit the post.

“We know we shouldn’t have conceded four goals,” said Mandroiu. “It was so cheap on our part. We wouldn’t let that happen in the league, against Slovan or other European teams so we need to brush up on those mistakes that happened over there.”

In reality, Slovan were only denied four goals by the heroics of Rovers goalkeeper Alan Mannus and last Thursday, Konstanin Vassiljev, Henrik Ojamaa and Martin Miller looked capable of tearing them apart at will.

Rovers believe they are of this standard – the lowest level of European football if truth be told – but tangible evidence has still to be produced.

In particular, opportunity knocks for the attacking midfielder Stephen Kenny included, without capping, in the June squad that played Andorra and Hungary.

“Someone asked me is a miracle [needed] but it’s definitely not a miracle,” said Mandroiu. “It will be tough but it can definitely happen. We can’t just go all guns blazing, we have to play our own game. We know if we keep a clean sheet we can score a goal or two. It’s no miracle.”


The Rovers defence will never be the same after tonight as Liam Scales is due to sign for Celtic before the transfer window closes. With Enda Stevens injured, the 23-year-old might even compete with Ryan Manning for Ireland's vacant left-back slot.

“I wish Liam the best, a great lad, nobody deserves it more than him,” added Mandroiu. “A lot of players go from this league. Don’t get me wrong, I’m taking it day by day, I’m not looking too far ahead but Liam is a prime example of what can happen if you play well and get your head down.”

Or keep your head up. Rovers need early inspiration to achieve something just shy of a miracle.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent