It's August and we've still 3 LOI clubs in Europe. Only one of those clubs are left in the FAI Cup. While the men's leagues took a break from league action, we had a hugely significant weekend for the Women's National League. Oh and there's been developments for two stadiums too. Maybe that's two stadia? Either way, let's get you up to speed in week 26 of the 2022 Irish football season.
The Sligo Rovers rollercoaster continues
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) July 29, 2022
Rovers followed up their win in Scotland by completing the double over Motherwell with a 2-0 win in the Showgrounds. Shane Blaney's rocket in the opening few minutes set the tone and Motherwell never really looked like getting back into the tie. It's the first time Sligo have won both legs of a European tie and, as often mentioned last week by fans of the league, it's the third consecutive success for LOI clubs against Scottish opponents. Just as they did the last time they followed a European game with a domestic game, Rovers stumbled to a home defeat. Wexford came from behind to win 2-1 in extra time to knock Sligo out of the FAI Cup in the first round. Wexford are an improving team, but it was still a disappointing result for John Russell's team. Rovers are in Norway this evening for their 3rd round tie against Vikingur. They're already in bonus territory in Europe but their domestic form needs to improve dramatically if they're to be back in Europe next year.
The St Pats rollercoaster continues
— St Patrick's Athletic FC (@stpatsfc) July 29, 2022
Last Thursday, Pats had one of the most impressive European results of recent seasons knocking out Mura in Slovenia on a penalty shoot out in 30+ degree heat. The Irish side had the better of open play in the game but gave up a handful of clear chances to their hosts with goalkeeper Joseph Anang proving his worth with a string of top saves. In the shoot out, he managed one more save while Mura missed the target twice allowing Pats to win their first ever European penalty shoot out 6-5. Their reward is a trip to Sofia tonight to take on CSKA and like Sligo, they've already exceeded most pundit's expectations. Also like Sligo, there were definite signs of a European hangover as less than 65 hours after their European high, they began the defence of their 2021 FAI Cup win. By half time, the Saints had conceded 3 to first division Waterford (scoring twice themselves) and with 20 minutes to go, the final result was known as the leggy home side struggled to match Waterford's intensity. After tonight's game in Sofia, they've a tricky tie against Shelbourne in Tolka Park on Sunday before another European game next Thursday.
The FAI Cup wasn't kind to non-LOI clubs
Non-LOI clubs faced LOI opposition in 5 games last weekend and the combined scored was 26-0. The non-LOI clubs are mostly in pre-season and the timing of the games is certainly a factor but the gap between the full time professionals and the non-LOI clubs has been growing for a while. Crumlin United's win over ten-man Finn Harps in 2016 is the only win over Premier Division clubs for non-LOI clubs in the last ten years. There's very little the FAI (or anyone else) can do to address the imbalance. Up to 2016, the first round was played in May and some non-LOI clubs claimed it was during their busy end of season period and should be moved. Next year we might see the top Leinster Senior League sides face the bottom clubs in the First Division and they might win. We can expect some overreaction to that if it happens too.
The best day in the short history of Sligo Rovers Women
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) July 30, 2022
Sligo Rovers are in their first season in the WNL and so far, they've done OK. Nothing too exciting, but for a first season, they've performed admirably. Last weekend they played a first ever game on national TV and beat the champions, and league leaders, Shelbourne in front of a decent crowd in thrilling fashion. It was a huge night, and coming two days after the men's team's win over Motherwell, build on the idea that Sligo is a football town and on the rise again. This weekend, they travel to Dalymount Park for an FAI Cup quarter final. Shelbourne are in a mini slump themselves and are without a win in three. They face Peamount United in the Cup themselves.
Community Stadiums ahoy!
Dublin City Council changing track on Dalymount Park met with a mixed response last week. Having praised the design and concept throughout, Bohemians welcomed news of the development being "scaled back" as it may allow for a higher capacity. The demolition of the Connaught Street terrace began this week but we're still a while away from anything being built in it's place or elsewhere in Dalymount with more council reports to come before a new plan is agreed. The earliest projections for a new community stadium in Dalymount are now early 2026. Better news for Finn Harps as they received milestone government approval late last week for the new Finn Harps Community Stadium. When politicians are out claiming victory, you know things are getting serious. Work is expected to start on the modular stadium soon, but as ever, Harps fans will reserve celebrations until the stadium is opened.
The path ahead for Rovers
Shamrock Rovers need to win just one more tie to guarantee group stage football in Europe and after this week's draws, anything less will be a disappointment. Tonight they face Shkupi of North Macedonia (if you haven't read the incredible Shkupi statement on air travel arrangements) in Tallaght and they'll hope to continue their recent European form at home (4 wins in a row). If they can prevail over two legs, they'll face the losers of Qarabag v Ferencvaros for a spot in the Europa League (with the consolation of knowing a loss there still drops them into the ECL groups). A loss to Shkupi would see Rovers play the winner of Ballkani (Kosovo) and KI (Faroe Islands) for a Conference League group spot. Any club would take needing one win from two games against clubs from North Macedonia/Kosovo/Faroe Islands and if Rovers don't make it, there'll have to serious questions asked of the squad and management.
There's some big games back in the men's league this weekend with second and third clashing in Oriel Park with Dundalk playing host to Derry City. Finn Harps can get off the bottom with a result at home to Drogheda United with UCD's game with Shamrock Rovers off. Sligo and Pats will hope to avoid more Euro hangovers on Sunday but both have games. Sligo host Bohemians while Pats make the short trip to Tolka Park to play Shelbourne. Wins for Bohs and Shels would see only 2 points separating these four sides. While fourth position only claims European football if one of the top three wins the cup, all four clubs will do all they can to be in Europe next year as the results this year prove how lucrative it can be.