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So, Do The Irish Sides Have A Chance In The Europa League?

So, Do The Irish Sides Have A Chance In The Europa League?
By David Kent Updated

It's that time of year again. No, not Christmas (although some fans might call it so) - the League of Ireland's annual European expedition gets underway on Thursday. Three Irish sides make their first ventures into the Europa League qualifying rounds.

Shamrock Rovers:

Who've they got? UMF Stjarnan (Iceland)

Stjarnan are third in the Urvalsdeild table at the time of writing, with 14 points from their first nine games. Their attack is spearheaded by Gudjon Baldvinsson. Like Rovers, Stjarnan are a young side - Baldvinsson is one of only two outfield players over 30 in the squad.

They've been knocked out of their last two European exploits by Celtic and Inter Milan.

They went from March to May unbeaten - but are yet to win a game in June, most recently drawing 2-2 with ÍA.

They're most famous for their comedy celebrations.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zC8XanuhOss

While Rovers are out of the title race in Ireland after a lacklustre start, Stephen Bradley's side is filled with promising young talent. Trevor Clarke, Brandon Miele and James Doona have been backed up by the likes of Graham Burke, Gary Shaw and the experienced Ronan Finn.

They play fast, counter-attacking football, but their defence has been leaky at times.

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Verdict: They head to Iceland first, if they avoid defeat out there, The Hoops will have enough to get through

Derry City:

Who've they got? FC Midtjylland (Denmark)

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In a list of 'Worst Possible Draws' for Derry City, Midtylland would've been up the top. Their worst performance in Europe has been the third qualifying round. Their midfield has been strung by Rafael van der Vaart. They barely made it into Europe though - sneaking through a playoff having finished four points off automatic qualification.

Derry started the year strongly, but the tragic death of captain Ryan McBride hit hard. They went without a victory for almost two months and have lost their last two games. Scotsman Nicky Low recently extended his loan, but most of their goals have come from the midfield pairing of Barry McNamee and Aaron McEneff.

In Rory Patterson, they have the only man to score a hat-trick for an Irish club in European competition.

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Verdict: They'll need a miracle, but stranger things have happened.

Cork City:

Who've they got? Levadia Tallinn (Estonia)

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The lowest possible seed that they could've gotten on draw day, Levadia featured on a few wish lists from Rebel Army fans. After all, Cork have an impressive record in European competition. But perhaps they should be more worried.

Levadia sit second in the Meistriliiga after picking up 43 points from a possible 51 in their first 17 games. Rimo Hunt is their top scorer with 11, and they've only conceded nine goals in that time. They've dished out plenty of hammerings too - almost a third of their league games has seen them score 5 or more.

But even that isn't as good a record as Cork City this season. The runaway champions-elect are flying at the top of the table. Played 19, won 18, drawn 1, scored 54, conceded 10. There are even whispers of an unbeaten season, with a trip to Tallaght Stadium the hardest fixture Cork have left on paper.

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Crucially, they've managed to strike a deal with Preston to hold onto hot fire Sean Maguire until July 24th.

Even better news for John Caulfield's side is that Levadia hasn't even got home advantage. The game is being played in the city of Parnu - a two-hour drive away from Levadia's Kadrioru Stadium in the Estonian capital. The club pushed for the game to be brought forward to today because of 'renovations'.

Verdict: Cork should have enough to at least draw in Parnu, and no one seems to be able to turn them over in Turner's Cross this year.

 

The matches and kick off times:

Levadia Tallinn vs Cork City (16:30 Irish time)
FC Midtylland vs Derry City (19:00 Irish time)
UMF Stjarnan vs Shamrock Rovers (20:15 Irish time)

SEE ALSO: Stephen Elliott Criticises "Ridiculous" Restructuring Of The League Of Ireland

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