Eamon Kane: Rovers victory is a triumph for all that is decent in sport
GLASGOW Celtic, Rangers and Hearts couldn't do it, but last night Shamrock Rovers football club achieved an amazing soccer goal.
The Hoops qualified for the Europa League group stages with a dramatic 3-2 win over Partisan Belgrade in the Serbian capital.
Rovers have done what the multi-million euro squads of the big clubs couldn't do -- and at the same time have carved a niche in Irish sporting history.
The Dublin club have lifted a nation. Moreover in a sport sullied by greed, they showed that the ordinary supporters, the ones who kept this once proud club alive when it faced financial ruin back in 2005, can make a difference.
For the men in green and white it is a lift not just to a proud club, but to the city of Dublin. Consider that their new home in Tallaght has one of the highest unemployment rates in Ireland and you begin to see how sport can lift and transform communities.
Consider that Rovers' players are, by and large, part-timers. Consider that it is rare in Europe for any team to lose at home and you only begin to see what Rovers have achieved.
Absolutely no one gave them a chance of qualifying. The match itself was heart-stopping, with Rovers coming back from a goal down to secure extra time. And when Stephen O'Donnell slotted home the winning penalty in extra time, grown men cried. It was that special.
That goal was a million-dollar baby. It means the Hoops will get a guaranteed income from the next stages. They could also get one of the big clubs like Tottenham Hotspur which would mean an even bigger pay day in terms of TV rights and spin-offs. And to think they faced extinction a few years ago. As it is they survive on a meagre budget -- a lesson for us all.
I can remember as a child watching a number of false dawns for the Hoops. At one stage Herald columnist John Giles brought them to a truly professional level. However that just wasn't sustainable in the long run. The League of Ireland itself has struggled to survive in an era when sponsorship money, talented players and the fans have drifted to the Premier League across the water.
The sport has only survived thanks to the endeavours of the League of Ireland supporters club and the consistent media exposure given by the likes of the Herald.
Many of the players involved last night have come through the Dublin schoolboy leagues, aided by thousands of dedicated amateur coaches and mentors. Now everybody wants to cover the Hoops' adventure. The British media are going mad over this story. Best of all is that this dream will continue. If Rovers draw a big club they will have to move to the Avivia Stadium, and those proud Hoops players will deserve that platform. For club chairman Johnathan Roche it is like entering a "new universe".
Roche was a member of the supporters group that saved the Hoops back in 2005. That '400 club', as it is called, have set down a model for other clubs in how to sustain a club in difficult times.
We hear much talk of Barcelona being a supporters' club but the Catalans aren't a patch on the boys from Dublin. Maybe now, with this victory, Ireland manager Giovanni Trapatonni will take our home- based players more seriously.
Rovers are the first ever Irish team to qualify for the Europa League group stages. Let's sit back and applaud a triumph for hard-working people who live by true and decent sporting principles. Maybe some of our esteemed political leaders can learn something from the boys in green. The dream lives on.