€5 million D-Day chase: permutations and what’s next for Irish clubs in Europe

It was a memorable night for Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletics, as both sides posted impressive victories in Europe. Hoops are aiming to qualify for their first European group stage since 2011, while the Saints have never reached that stage in their history. However, there was disappointment for Sligo Rovers in Norway, as Bit O’Reid’s dreams came to an end after a 5–1 loss to Viking.

The European prize money on offer is huge for League of Ireland clubs. Should Rovers and Pat progress on the way there should be at least €4.3million. Here’s what you need to know about where the three sides stand on European travel.

where are they standing

shamrock rovers

The Hoops defeated North Macedonian champion Shakupi 3–1 at the Tallaghat Stadium in the first leg of the Europa League third qualifying round. Goals from Graham Burke and Dylan Watts kept Rovers ahead, before Gary O’Neill made a surprise late strike, earning the first two-goal advantage from next Thursday’s second leg.

If Rovers gets the job done next week, they will advance to a Europa League play-off with a first leg against Azerbaijan’s Karabas FK, or Hungary’s Ferencváros. The winners will enter the Europa League group stage and spend €3.6 million. However, if Rovers lose the play-offs, they will enter the third tier Europa Conference League group stage and earn €3.3 million.

If Rovers lose to Shkupi next week, they will face a play-off against Kosovo’s Balkany and Faroese side Klaksvik to make it to the Europa Conference League group stage.

what did they say

Stephen Bradley: “I think teams across Europe respect us a lot. I’m glad St. Pat won, and we won. I know Sligo’s night was tough, but I think the teams in Europe are our Lots of respect. It shows the league is going in the right direction. It’s been a good year so far and hopefully we both keep it up.”

St. Patrick’s Athletics

The Saints overcame last weekend’s FAI Cup exit and put on a scintillating performance to beat Bulgaria’s CSKA Sofia 1-0 on their home patch. The late winner of Serge Atakayi secured St Pat’s first European win since 2009 as they take a goal advantage for next week’s second leg at Tallaghat Stadium.

If Tim Clancy’s team advances to CSKA next week, they will face either Denmark’s Brndby or Swiss outfit FC Basel in a conference league play-off, with €1 million guaranteed. Like Shamrock Rovers, qualification for the Conference League group stage would earn St Pat’s at least €3.3 million.

If CSKA eliminate St Pat next week, the Inchikor side will still pocket €750,000. St Pat have never qualified for a European group stage before, coming closest in a Europa League play-off defeat to Steia Bucharest in 2009.

They said

Tim Clancy: “It was a perfect night for us. Every player was fantastic from start to finish. The game was dragging on. Thankfully, Serge got to the end of a short back-pass, drove him home and gave us the win. He Feels on top of the world as he is after achieving one of the best results from an Irish club in Europe. Sure, it gives us a little more confidence about next Thursday. Every one to cross us Somebody has to try.”

Sligo Rovers

Bit O’Red was unable to follow the exploits of Shamrock Rovers and St Pat, as they were defeated 5–1 by Viking of Norway in the first leg of the Europa League third qualifying round. Captain David Kavle’s penalty pulled one back late, but Sligo’s European voyage came to an end.

After victories over Wales’ Bala Town and Scotland’s Motherwell, Sligo progressed through two European Tours this summer for the first time in its history. Should John Russell’s side make an unexpected return, they will earn €1.15 million and face either Slovakia’s Dunajska Strada or Romania’s FCSB in the conference league play-offs. He will still get €850,000 in the bank after his defeat at the showground next Thursday.

what did they say

John Russell: “I knew they were going to be a serious team. You still want to come in and make a game plan and try to put it in front of them. The scoreline isn’t a good reflection on the group, I’m trying to I can’t go wrong my players. There is a huge learning and we need to take it forward as a group.”

How have League of Ireland clubs performed in Europe in the past?

League clubs from Ireland have qualified for a European group stage on only three occasions.

In 2011, a Europa League play-off win against Partizan Belgrade earned Shamrock Rovers a group stage spot, where they finished fourth behind Tottenham Hotspur, Rubin Kazan and PAOK, losing all six games.

In 2016, Ireland’s current manager Stephen Kenny took Dundalk to the Europa League group stage with Legia Warsaw after losing a Champions League play-off. Lillewhites became the first Irish club to win a match at that level, beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 1–0. Dundalk finished fourth with four points from six group games.

After a play-off win against Persian side KÍ, Dundalk returned to the Europa League group stage in 2020. Jordin Flores and Sean Hoare found the net against Arsenal in a 4–2 loss at Aviva Stadium, as Dundalk lost their six group games against the Gunners, Rapid Wien and Molde.

What is the Europa Conference League?

The Conference League was introduced by UEFA in 2021 as Europe’s third-tier club competition. No team qualifies directly for the group stage, as the participants are made up of qualifier winners and Europa League play-off losers. Jose Mourinho’s Roma won the inaugural Conference League in May, beating Feyenoord 1–0 in the final, and secured a Europa League spot for the following season.