'A week is a long time in football' might be a cliche, but it's certainly true for Irish clubs around European fixture time. This time last week, Sligo Rovers were being accused of bringing shame to the league, now they're the toast of it.
Here's what you need to know from week 24 of the LOI.
What a rollercoaster week for Sligo Rovers!
Oh, what a night 😍
Highlights | Motherwell 0-1 @sligorovers
Another UEFA Europa Conference League away-day victory for the Bit O'Red 🙌
Huge second leg at the Showgrounds next week 💪#LOI | #LOITV pic.twitter.com/x596uFVcxG
— SSE Airtricity League (@SSEAirtricityLg) July 22, 2022
Last week we published before the 2nd legs in Europe and the assumption was that Sligo Rovers would progress past Bala Town having won 2-1 in Wales.
The second leg in the Showgrounds saw Rovers struggle throughout and only for a superb display from keeper Ed McGinty, they'd have been knocked out. After a 0-1 defeat, Sligo dramatically won the shoot out with McGinty saving twice with relief, rather than celebration, the overriding emotion.
McGinty was missing from the squad as Rovers stumbled to a 0-2 defeat at home to UCD on Sunday with rumours of UK clubs circling. It was UCD's first win in Sligo since 2006 and brought the bottom club level on points with Finn Harps. It only added to the gloom around Sligo when it was confirmed yesterday that McGinty was moving to Oxford in a deal that "could lead to six figures".
Last night, that gloom was lifted with a superb Rovers display earning a 1-0 win away in Motherwell thanks to another Aidan Keena lob in Europe. After the home performance against Bala, Sligo won't be taking anything for granted but they're in a superb position to continue the League of Ireland's record this millennium against opponents from Scotland.
Last night was the third consecutive win for a LOI club in Scotland and on each of the previous two occasions, the LOI has progressed (Bohs over Aberdeen in 2000, Derry over Gretna in 2006). Sligo have had their league game this weekend postponed to prepare for it.
Shamrock Rovers humbled in Bulgaria
Ludogorets make it 3-0 with practically the final kick of the match. That could be Game Over, says Alan Cawley. Heartbreak for the Hoops.#RTEsoccer
📺 https://t.co/JYf06csaIG pic.twitter.com/tdYHjCFoWJ
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) July 19, 2022
It was no surprise but the champions were taught a lesson by Ludogerets in Bulgaria on Tuesday night.
Rovers struggled to contain them early on and went in at the break two down. A much better second half performance by Rovers only heightened the pain of conceding a third goal late on when sloppy play from Lee Grace and others wrapped the tie up for Ludogerets.
Rovers will play for pride next week but their European journey isn't over and they likely won't face club with a budget close to that of Ludogerets. The Europa League and Conference league group stages are still very much within their grasp.
A European revival for Pats?
— St Patrick's Athletic FC (@stpatsfc) July 21, 2022
Between 2008 and 2012, Pats won 8 of the 12 European ties they played, only being beaten by quality opposition including two Bundesliga teams each year. Their record in Richmond Park during that period was played 8, won 7, drawn 1.
They haven't come close to those levels since despite regularly challenging for league and cup honours domestically. Last night, Richmond was rocking and Pats were excellent against Mura of Slovenia (or Mura who beat Spurs last year in the groups as most called them) and should have won the game.
The Saints made one error all game and, as ever in Europe, they were made pay - undeservedly going into half time a goal down. The second half continued as the first with the imperious Chris Forrester orchestrating each Saints attack. His quality equaliser was near bettered late on and no one could have denied a win was earned.
They'll fly out to Slovenia as underdogs next week, but they've given themselves a chance now.
The League One debate
— Fleetwood Town FC (@ftfc) July 21, 2022
A lot of chatter this week as several more players left the LOI for League One in England.
Bohemians COO Daniel Lambert took to twitter to suggest that clubs should come together to object to release clauses in contracts. While clubs working together is fine in theory, there are loads of areas it could be trialed without risking the wrath of the PFAI and anti-competition lawyers.
That's without mentioning that LOI clubs sign the majority of the players they sell on for little or nothing. Can Shamrock Rovers fans really bristle at the idea of selling Andy Lyons for "only" £200k when they signed him 6 months ago for a pittance?
The only way to prevent clubs being "ripped off" (as some have claimed) is for the clubs and league here to improve revenue so that we can provide a viable option, both financially and in football terms, for young footballers.
There's no question that League Two football provides a better option for young footballers right now. The money, the training, the competition is all above what Irish clubs can offer. None of those players are irreplaceable though. Clubs here have shown that they're capable of producing quality young players regularly now and hopefully the money received from transfers is invested in developing the new professional pathway.
The weekend outlook
The big game in the First Division last week ended in a 0-0 draw and a single point still separates Cork City from Galway United. City look to have the tougher task this weekend as they travel to an inform Wexford while Galway travel to Athlone.
Friday night in the Premier Division is mostly concerned with relegation issues with UCD hosting Shels and Dundalk hosting Harps. Dundalk dropped more points last week away to Pats in a very entertaining game. We have a rare Saturday 2pm game tomorrow with a leggy Shamrock Rovers taking on Drogheda United.
Shelbourne could effectively wrap up the Women's League this week if results go their way. They take on Athlone on Saturday and Bohemians next Monday.