St Patrick’s Athletic and Sligo Rovers in second round – The Irish Times

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Europa Conference League, second qualifying round, first leg.

St Patrick’s Athletic v NS Mura (Slovenia), Richmond Park, 7.45pm

Barry Cotter brings an athletic presence to St Pat’s right flank after being loaned out across town by Shamrock Rovers ahead of this Europa qualifier. The 23-year-old has failed to break into the Rovers squad, with Ronan Finn operating at right-back, and zero Champions League minutes makes him eligible to face the Slovenian visitors.

Mura qualified for the group stages of the Europa Conference last season and although they lost five of six matches there was a famous 2-1 defeat of a Spurs side which included Harry Kane and Matt Doherty. That Amadej Marosa’s winner came in the 94th minute only makes the story better.

European football seems to have come too soon for St Pat’s. A club openly in rebuilding mode, with manager Tim Clancy arriving from Drogheda United after Stephen O’Donnell’s decision to leave for Dundalk and bring several players with him, meant the FAI Cup holders struggled to replicate the relative consistency of last season.

Ranked fourth in the league, with 10 wins and eight losses, last Friday’s 1-1 draw at home to Dundalk was their season in a microcosm. After a brilliant, flowing goal in the 16th minute, with Chris Forrester, Eoin Doyle, Billy King and Mark Doyle synched, they went so deep into their shell that Dundalk had to equalise.

It will be interesting to see more of Serge Atakayi, the Congo-born Finland Under-21 winger, signed as a replacement for Darragh Burns.

“They are technically very good,” said Clancy of the Slovenians. “They are pretty consistent with their line-up. They have very good players. We’ve been working on them a lot, so hopefully our guys will come into the game with enough information about how they want to play.

Another hope is that St Pat’s learn from Shamrock Rovers’ 3-0 defeat in Bulgaria this week and not try to play their natural game against superior opposition.

“It’s one of those where we would be conscious to keep it as tight as possible and make sure we’re still alive in the second leg there.”

Success in this regard is worth €550,000.

Motherwell v Sligo Rovers, Fir Park, 7.45pm

All eyes will be on Ross Tierney. Last winter, the attacking midfielder left Bohemians and Ballymun to embark on a fully professional career in Scotland. Small in stature, Ireland Under-21’s place in Dalymount folklore is already assured and although they have yet to find a regular place in Graham Alexander’s starting XI, tonight could be when that will change.

Sligo Rovers will know all about Tierney’s ability to blur the lines between midfield and attack, but they are lucky to reach the second round of the Europa Conference League after needing a session of penalty shootout to defeat the modest town of Bala.

From Wales to Scotland, Rovers barely know continental football, but it would be a major feat if they race into the third round where winners Sparta Prague and Viking (Norway) await.


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