UEFA Europa Conference League first qualifying round
By Dave Donnelly
More than 6,000 fans will file into the Aviva Stadium next Thursday to see Bohemians host Stjarnan of Iceland in arguably their biggest game in a decade.
The Gypsies will hope to go into the game with a positive result from their first leg tie, which takes place in Reykjavik this evening (kick-off 8.45pm).
Champions Shamrock Rovers face Slovan Bratislava a day earlier, while Sligo also face Icelandic opposition in FH, while Dundalk travel to Wales to face Newtown.
Only Bohemians will have use of the national stadium, however, as they take part in a pilot scheme with a view to opening larger events across the country in the coming weeks and months.
6,000 tickets sold out in a matter of hours as the buzz around the Phibsboro club has gone undiminished by the near year-long absence of fans from the stands of Dalymount Park.
Keith Long’s side secured European football for a second successive season thanks to a second-place finish in the Premier Division last season.
2021 has been a little more challenging for Bohs, who struggled in the early part of the season but make the trip north as arguably the form team in Ireland.
Bohs have won five of their last seven games, including a 5-1 thumping of Dundalk and a 1-0 win over Shamrock Rovers, scoring 18 goals.
A 4-0 defeat at Sligo Rovers two weeks ago came as somewhat of a shock, given they’d beaten Rovers just four days earlier, but they bounced back with a 3-2 win over St Patrick’s Athletic.
And they do so with the league’s form player in tow, as Georgie Kelly opened the scoring against Pats with his 12th goal of a prolific season.
Nine of those goals came during the month of June, including three against Dundalk and four against Drogheda United, as he was the league’s named player of the month.
“We have played good opposition ahead of going into Europe and let’s see where we go with that,” Long said ahead of the trip.
“Stjarnan are a good side. There are no mugs in European football. We don’t know a huge amount about them. Rovers beat them a couple of years back. But that obviously means nothing.
“They are an experienced team. I think the average age of their team that started last Monday was 28.6. So they’ve lots of miles in their legs – and experience.
“They have also got some really good technical players. It will be difficult. You can’t quite judge on video the level of the opposition and tempo that they play at.
“We have to make sure we play at the levels we can play at. If we do that, hopefully we can come away with a good performance and result.”