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Wednesday 22 November 2017

Home fires are still burning bright for Hoops' Euro stars

Shamrock Rovers players Simon Madden, left, and David Webster celebrate after their Europa League first qualifying round first leg win over Stjarnan in Gardabaer, Iceland on Thursday. Pic: Sportsfile
Shamrock Rovers players Simon Madden, left, and David Webster celebrate after their Europa League first qualifying round first leg win over Stjarnan in Gardabaer, Iceland on Thursday. Pic: Sportsfile

The first part of their European mission safely dealt with, Shamrock Rovers have to get their minds back to domestic matters and the task of securing European football for next season as well.

The Hoops party were in a good mood when they landed in Dublin airport in the early hours of Friday morning, fresh from a 1-0 win away to Icelandic side Stjarnan the previous evening and even a lengthy wait for taxis at arrivals in the airport could not dampen the players' spirits.

But while their fellow Europa League competitors Derry City and Cork City have no league games this weekend, Rovers are back in action tomorrow, away to Sligo Rovers (6pm).

Rovers find themselves in fourth position in the league, in itself not enough to qualify for Europe for next season, and while league leaders Cork City are too far away to be caught, an in-form Rovers side have their sights on the sides above them.

"I keep saying we've to look at the teams in front of us," says manager Stephen Bradley. "We've to go and try to catch Bray. We said that of Derry, they were the team we needed to go and get, and we got them.

"Now we need to go after Bray and after that it's Dundalk. That's our targets, we try to hit them and we'll see where we end up. But we have to aim for the two in front of us."

That focus on the league campaign is why Rovers opted to play Sligo tomorrow, instead of taking a weekend off to prepare for next Thursday's home leg with Stjarnan.

Rovers have already played one game more than Derry or Cork, a consequence of their decision to play Bray Wanderers last month, ahead of schedule, to try and avoid a backlog of fixtures late on in the season.

"Sunday is massive for us. That's why we didn't want the game off. We felt if we were going to Iceland on the back of two wins, we could win there, then you go into Sunday with confidence," says the Rovers boss.

Thursday's win in Gardabaer, in reality a suburb of Reykjavik, was a big deal for Rovers, the deserved victory coming through Gary Shaw's first-half goal, Shaw's first-ever goal in European competition and the club's first win in eight away Euro ties.

"It was a really good win. Based on our first half performance I thought we deserved it. We played some really good football and looked really threatening going forward," Bradley reflected.

"In the second half we had to show different sorts of characteristics. We had to be together and defend and I thought we did that really well.

"Early on we started thinking it was a League of Ireland game, we were playing too direct.

Controlled

"We had to try and get the message out, what we spoke about the day before and on the morning of the game, Europe is different. You have more time than you realise, if you are brave enough to go and play. Once we did that, we controlled the game.

It's a brilliant night, coming away in Europe and you win is good.

"The players enjoyed the night and we go Sunday and then we concentrate on next week.

"We need the same again on Sunday against Sligo.

"Thursday night was brilliant, and they really enjoyed it, and we told them to enjoy it. But we now have to switch on for tomorrow."

Sligo had been on a decent run of form when they faced, and lost to, the Hoops in April, but wins have been a bit hard to come by for the Bit O' Red of late.

Four draws and three losses in the last seven is a worrying run form for Gerard Lyttle's side, who are only outside of the relegation zone on goal difference.

Graham Burke is, again, suspended for the Hoops while Sligo defender Kyle Callan-McFadden also misses out with a ban.

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