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Blades on edge as Irish trio push for Euro glory

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Sheffield United's Irish full-back Enda Stevens. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Sheffield United's Irish full-back Enda Stevens. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Sheffield United's Irish full-back Enda Stevens. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

When Enda Stevens played in the Europa League, for Shamrock Rovers, back in 2011, he had doubts if he'd get to appear on that stage ever again.

And once his career delved down the divisions following his move to Aston Villa, from the highs of Premier League football with that club to a spell in the fourth tier, Europe seemed like some sort of impossible dream.

Compatriot John Egan had a similar experience. Just months before Stevens played for Rovers in that ground-breaking European run, Egan lived the continental life for a bit, a key figure in the Ireland U-19 side which made it to the semi-finals of the European Championships in Romania.

Egan too would see the other side of life after that high, serious injury and football in the lower leagues before his revival, a deserved one, with Sheffield United.

The Champions League and Sheffield United seem like strange bedfellows.

Bramall Lane is not a ground accustomed to European nights. And yet, as the Premier League in England gets back to action this evening, the honour of the first game post-pandemic falling to Sheffield United and Aston Villa, those words are very much in view for Chris Wilder's side, which is backboned by Egan and Stevens with flair up front from David McGoldrick.

A win this evening would push the Blades up to fifth in the table, ahead of Manchester United and just two points behind Chelsea, with the same number of games played.

The path to the Champions League, usually barren for clubs like Sheffield United and Wolves, is already open, more so due to the impending UEFA ban for Manchester City.

Some have wondered if getting that far would be good for the club, pointing out that clubs not used to the demands of Europe find life to be a struggle afterwards. Crystal Palace owner Simon Jordan asked if it was "the right part of Sheffield United's blueprint to find themselves in Europe at this stage in their evolution?"

Sheffield United as a club may be unused to that stage but Stevens, Egan and McGoldrick have had a taste from their experiences with Ireland, and a solid start to the restart against Villa this evening could lead to a very enjoyable spell in Europe next season.

"It would be huge," Egan said recently when asked what Europe would mean to him.

"If we can carry on our form then why can't we make a push for Europe?"

The path ahead is clear, they just have to get there. But Egan and Stevens have shown they are the men for the long road.