Shane Lowry did us proud at the weekend, winning The Open to become only the second Irish golfer [after Padraig Harrington] to win it [or indeed any ‘Major’].
It capped a memorable week for Irish sports fans – Dubliner Eoin Morgan lifting the Cricket World Cup for England may or may not have floated your boatbut the progress of Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk to the next qualifying rounds of the Europa and Champions Leagues was a shot in the arm for League of Ireland fans.
Lowry had to dig deep and hold his nerve in atrocious conditions at the weekend in Royal Portrush, and both Rovers and Dundalk showed similar grit and determination to get over the line against SK Brann and Riga FC.
Just as the crowds at Royal Portrush gave Lowry a boost as he headed for victory, the crowd at Tallaght Stadium helped Rovers overcome Brann in a 2-1 home win [4-3 on aggregate] over their Norwegian opponents. Dundalk had to negotiate an away leg in Latvia in order to progress, a tie that went all the way to a penalty shootout.
The games come thick and fast at this stage of European competition and this week will see Dundalk host Qarabag from Azerbaijan in the Europa League third qualifying round in Oriel Park on Wednesday, while Rovers host Apollon Limassol from Cyprus in Tallaght in the third qualifying round of the Europa League on Thursday. Big European nights for fans of both clubs, and indeed for all League of Ireland fans who will hopefully show their support.
Rovers and Dundalk have what it takes to get past this stage over the next couple of weeks. They are clubs with a proud European legacy. Both sides have played about 70 times in Europe and in recent years [2011 for Rovers and 2016 for Dundalk] these clubs made significant progress by reaching the group stages of the Europa League – waters previously uncharted for League of Ireland representatives.
Dundalk’s European ranking was recently upgraded to 155, putting them level with Vitesse Arnhem and Greek giants Panathinaikos. They take part this week in the same round as Celtic, and another tie at the same stage will see Bate Borisov take on Rosenborg. Rovers for their part are now at the same stage of the Europa League as Rangers, Wolves, Torino, Espanyol, AZ Alkmaar and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’sformer club Molde. Exalted company, but circles our lads deserve to be mixing in. We wish them well.