Champions League and Europa League Draws - What the League of Ireland clubs can expect from today's draw

Mon, Jun 19 2017

Stephen Kenny and fitness coach Graham Byrne embrace after Dundalk's win over BATE Borisov in Champions League qualification. Credit: Tom Beary

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2016 was a great year for Irish football as Dundalk confounded expectation to not only qualify for, but compete in, the Europa League group stages.

 

Along the way, they took the scalps of regular Champions League qualifiers in BATE Borisov and Maccabi Tel Aviv with memorable wins in their temporary home of Tallaght Stadium.

 

Extratime.ie was there all along the way, with a crack team of special operatives observing the draw for the early rounds from Bordeaux while following the national team on their Euro 2016 adventure.

 

 

That day saw Irish sides in Europe receive as manageable a draw as they could have hoped for, and three of Ireland's four entrants duly advanced at least one round.

 

Dundalk drew FH of Iceland in the Second Round of the Champions League and advanced on away goals, thanks to a 2-2 draw in Reykjavik, on their way to their famous triumph.

 

St Patrick's Atheltic saw off Luxembourg's Jeunesse Esch in the first round of Europa League qualifying, as did Cork City when they drew Linfield in an island of Ireland derby.

 

Shamrock Rovers were also given a kind draw in the form of Finland's ROPS Rovoniemi but they crashed out over two legs, the home defeat in the first leg seeing Pat Fenlon dismissed.

 

 

This time around, things don't appear so rosy for Irish entrants as all four are unseeded in their entry round, with Dundalk the most unlucky having come within a draw of getting the all-important seeding.

 

Once again, UEFA have signalled that they won't regionalise the draws this year, but in practice it's likely all four Irish teams will be placed in pots with mostly Northern European opposition.

 

We've run the rule over possible opponents for each of the League of Ireland sides and projected which away trips fans are likely to face come Monday morning.

 

Champions League

 

As we've explained above, Dundalk came within a result or two of being seeded for the draw for the Champions League this season.

 

Given their four losses in the group stages last year, including home and away games against top-ranked Zenit, were by just a goal, the Lilywhites can consider themselves very unlucky.

 

Being unseeded means, instead of possible opponents like Linfield and FK Zalgiris of Lithuania (who knocked Pats out of the Europa League in 2013), they instead face possible trips to Celtic or Rosenborg.

 

The best case scenario for Dundalk, once again, looks to be a trip to Iceland to face FH, who are likely to be grouped among seeded sides Celtic, Kobenhavn and Malmo.

 

Other possible opponents include BATE – whom Dundalk will have no fear of having faced them twice in two years – and Legia Warsaw, who narrowly defeated Stephen Kenny's side last year.

 

While a trip to play Celtic may well ignite the imagination of many fans in Ireland, they'd be best avoided after a record-breaking unbeaten treble season, and Dundalk fans won't want to welcome a de facto home team to Ireland.

 

Nevertheless, the task looks very troublesome for the champions, particularly given their dip in form this year following the departure of Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle and Ronan Finn.

 

We rate Dundalk's chances of advancement as low with the best prospect of moving forward in the competition another meeting with the evenly-matched Iceland side FH.

 

Extratime.ie outlook: Not favourable.

 

Europa League

 

All three League of Ireland sides in the Europa League draw are, like Dundalk, unseeded and the number of teams involved means regionalisation is looser and less predictable.

 

John Caulfield's Cork City are running away with the league this season after running Dundalk close three years in a row, and their success can't simply be put down to the Lilywhites' decline.

 

Caulfield has improved City every year he's been in charge and learned from the humiliating defeat to ten-man KR Reykjavik in 2015 with a sparkling performance in last year's Europe League.

 

City beat Linfield home and away before surprising Swedish side BK Hacken to win over two legs despite their opponents' massive financial advantage.

 

They came unstuck in the third qualifying round against Belgian side KRC Genk but they were competitive throughout against a side who would reach the quarter-finals.

 

Most impressive was the manner in which City approached their European ties, adapting to play patient, possession-based football against a side who were, realistically, as good as or better than any team Dundalk faced.

 

City have been boosted by the news Preston-bound Sean Maguire will remain at the club for at least the early rounds, while Kevin O'Connor likely will as well, and Ryan Delaney may sign permanently.

 

Derry City return to the draw for the first time in three years, when they beat Welsh side Aberystwyth Town before going out to Belarusian side Shakhytor Soligursk.

 

Shamrock Rovers are in the draw for the third successive season and will be at the mercy of the seeding system having lost all the points gained by group stage qualification in 2011.

 

As mentioned, the prospects of the three League of Ireland sides is much more difficult to predict, although a brief scan of the seeded sides sees regular CL participants Maccabi and Midtjylland.

 

Slovan Bratislava saw off UCD comprehensively two years ago, as did Norwegian side Odd Shamrock Rovers, while City and Derry will have bad memories of KR and Soligursk.

 

Rangers and St Johnstone of Scotland are draws to avoid, as are Red Star Belgrade and Lech Poznan, while IFK Norrkoping of Sweden and Poland's Jagiellonia Bialystok are best evaded.

 

On the other hand, there are eminently winnable ties in there in the form of Belfast side Crusaders, Maltesers Valetta (ask Roddy Collins) and Levadia Tallinn of Estonia.

 

Extratime.ie outlook: Cork City shouldn't fear any but the toughest draw, but Derry City and Shamrock Rovers will be praying for one of the weaker sides to stand a chance of going on.