Longford also won 2-0 in the UEFA at home to Welsh side Carmarthen. The icing on the cake came when Shels beat Glentoran 2-1 in the Champions League at the Oval in Belfast.
That icing though could melt very rapidly as Glentoran’s goal keeps the heat on Shels. The Reds are being kept honest in this very competitive Irish derby. But Jason Byrne’s two goals on the road may have clinched this clash.
Shels looked the better side in the first leg but Glentoran continued to battle. It stood to them. They scored. It would have been a far more interesting game if Glentoran were also playing summer football. Their Irish League is working on that. Regardless of the lack of match fitness they will be more organized upon the return leg at Tolka Park. At the same time they have to score a goal. In fact they have to score two. The odds are beginning to stack against them but manager Rob Coyle believes it?s not over, not yet. “We got stronger and stronger as the game went on. This game is still on and we have given ourselves a chance. They might be a bit edgy now,” remarked Coyle.
Shels all the same look like they can have their cake and eat it. Pat Fenlon either can ask his team to sit in and hit on the counter attack or go out and play an attacking open game of football. “I am always confident we can beat teams. My team is full of good players,” the boss often says of his players. The fighting Fenlon added: “We will go out to win the game, as we always do. I don’t think we know how to play the game any other way.” However, Fenlon’s fighting words don’t tell the whole story. Shels can be patient, too, when they have to be. They have experience in Europe now. Shels will counter attack out on the flank as Glentoran’s goal does spell caution for Shelbourne.
There is a lot to play for — the chance to meet ex European Champions Steaua Bucharest. That opportunity has probably sneaked in to Shelbourne’s way of thinking, looking perhaps to far ahead of the return leg. Of course they’d never admit that they are thinking about Burcharest. But what an incentive to know how close you are to meeting a former European Champion? Now there’s a real Champions League test to prove the theory that summer football will improve Irish chances in Europe. Fenlon has warned that Glentoran never “surrender,” but it looks like Tolka Park is smelling the roses already. The only thing preventing advance is a bad slip-up.
Cork City traveled deeper into European soil when they took on Lithuanian front-runners FK Ekranas. This first leg was a better barometer for testing the summer theory. And Cork did not disappoint, winning 2-0. But it’s the manner in which Cork beat FK that suggests improvement for Eircom football. There also has to be a question mark over the standard of Lithuanian domestic football for Cork to dominate the game the way they did. But would Cork have done this five years ago when they were not playing winter football?
In Eircom’s new season, attacking football is more likely. It’s easier to pass the ball and keep possession on a more even surface and better weather conditions. This win for Cork does not go unnoticed with regard to improving in European competition and more importantly the game itself.
Cork was able to control the tempo of the game. At times they strung together some good fluent football. And let’s not forget this was on the road — where Irish domestic teams have rarely controlled the ball with quality possession and attack.
In the 25th minute Roy O’Donovan slotted home the opening goal after the Cork attack combined well. It’s a huge boost for O’Donovan in what was his European debut. It was a great day for all the players and staff.
In the 15th minute when Cork’s goalkeeper Michael Devine had to come out, in stepped goalkeeping coach Phil Harrington. The over-40s club should not be written off especially when it comes to goalkeeping. There was no choice. Reserve keeper Mark McNulty was also injured. However, the veteran Harrington kept things going when he came on. The record books will have to come out on his appearance alone.
Things just went right for Cork on the day while FK hit the woodwork twice. Then in the dying minutes, Cork got their second – a smashing effort by George O’Callaghan. The mood in the Cork camp is full of confidence after a deserved and credible victory. They will firmly believe that they can score again at home and produce another clean sheet. The Southerners are getting used to winning ways these days and remain in first place in their league. And it looks like they will also remain in the UEFA Cup.
Surprise package of the Irish trio in Europe are Longford Town. At least it seems that way on paper. But the Town are good in cup competition, which they have proven over the last few years. Carrying a two-goal advantage to Wales may encourage them to sit on the lead. But Longford also won in style and could have, or rather should have, scored more. The Irish were better throughout the field in the first leg and there’s no reason why they cannot do the same at Carmarthen. Longford, like Shels and Cork will expect to score more goals.
It’s looking good for the Irish threesome to move on in Europe. It’s a small step in the very early stages of European competition. However, it’s a step in the right direction and we expect the Irish to move on.