St Pat's to put on a show at RDS

 

UEFA CUP St Patrick's Ath (0) v Hertha Berlin (2):EVENTS IN Ballsbridge on Sunday evening suggest the Leinster rugby side's attempt to make a fortress of the RDS is still very much a work in progress.

And if they are encountering problems, Johnny McDonnell might just be wondering what chance his St Patrick's Athletic side stand of intimidating Hertha Berlin there in this afternoon's Uefa Cup first round second leg.

The club have been obliged to move the game, which kicks off at 5pm, as a result of the quality of the lights at Richmond Park, the limited number of seats and the inability of the Inchicore venue to facilitate the numbers of press and VIPs only encountered when the competition's truly big beasts come to town.

So, as he prepares his side to play in what will feel like a neutral venue - unless enough supporters go along and make the place their own - McDonnell is upbeat but readily admits he would prefer to see the Hertha team bus pulling up on Emmet Road this afternoon.

"It's just a unique place," he says with a grin. "They arrive at the ground and they look to see where the stadium is and they have to walk through the houses - it gives you that little bit of an edge.

"The atmosphere in the Elfsborg game was fantastic. There were 3,000 people there - can you imagine if there were 5,000 people in the place? I think the Inchicore people might have deserved that and I'm just disappointed we couldn't bring it to them. There's no doubt we would have a better edge there."

As it is, the manager has pretty much a full squad to choose from, although there is concern about Dessie Byrne, who missed training on Sunday because of a slight hamstring problem.

Overall, it is a good side, built around the especially strong central midfield partnership of Gary Dempsey and Keith Fahey, and in the last round proved capable of chasing a cause other sides might have written off as lost.

Still, McDonnell acknowledges his players face an uphill task. Even in ties between ostensibly more evenly matched teams than these, few clubs these days overturn a 2-0 deficit in Europe.

At the same stage of this competition last year it was managed in just one of the 40 ties, and it's difficult to gauge how much we should read into Helsingborgs' eventual 8-6 aggregate defeat of Herenveen.

"It's possible, there's no doubt it is possible," insists McDonnell. "They've gone through a sticky time over the past couple of weeks - even in our game, they were under pressure with the 0-0 at half-time. And it (the 1-0 home defeat by then bottom club Cottbus over the weekend) was a bad defeat for them. That might dent their confidence a bit," he observes, only to concede immediately, "or you could get a reaction."

At his own press conference, held around the corner at the Four Seasons Hotel, Hertha's coach Lucien Favre insisted that while his side remain inconsistent in the Bundesliga, their two-goal advantage puts them in a commanding position to secure a place in this competition's group stages.

Certainly, with the quality they possess in the likes of Arne Friedrich, Josip Simunic and Andriy Voronin, they should make it tough for the locals whose determination to take the game to their opponents should make for an entertaining evening.

McDonnell is still adamant the tie is far from over, insisting his players will be equipped with a range of strategies in their pursuit of the required goals.

"We'll work off our plans," he says. "If we get the first goal, it'd be important. But we have a few plans and even in the heat of what's going on, if we need to change the shape of the team, the transition will be easy.

"It's a funny score, 2-0," he continues. "Even in an ordinary game, if you're 2-0 up, the next goal is very important. It's a difficult scoreline for them because if we get one then we're right back in it; but if we are to do that then we need to exert a bit more control than we did in the first leg. We need to get behind them and get lots of balls into the box."

The stakes, he claims, make it the biggest game in the club's history. "Definitely," he says, "my first priority this year was to win the league but if we get through this, 10 leagues here won't compare to that. I don't mean that in a disrespectful way - I would absolutely love to win the league - but if we can break through that barrier it's just beyond thinking about."

And what, he is asked, if they really do pull it off? "Well, it would probably mean I'd get a five or six-year contract," he grins.

Beside him, Dempsey groans in mock despair; "And we'd have to play another 40 games!"

ST PATRICK'S ATHLETIC (Probable):Barry Ryan; Lynch, Gavin, Harris, Rogers; Guy, Dempsey, Fahy, Kirby; Quigley, O'Neill.

HERTHA (Probable):Drobny; Friedrich, Chahed, Simunic, Stein; Nicu, Cicero, Lustenberger, Kacar; Voronin, Pantelic.