Stephen Bradley believes Shamrock Rovers have every chance of upsetting the odds and beating Cypriot Europa League regulars Apollon Limassol in their qualifier over the next two weeks.
The Hoops have quickly been installed as massive underdogs following their impressive, against-the-odds win over SK Brann of Norway in Tallaght on Thursday.
Apollon have reached the group stages in each of the last two seasons, and four times in total since Rovers’ sole appearance in the competition proper in 2011, so rightly don the favourites tag.
The Cypriots narrowly missed out on a place in the knockout stages last year, after beating Marseilles and Lazio in a group that also contained eventual semi-finalists Eintracht Frankfurt.
One key advantage Rovers have is that they’re mid-season, whereas the Cypriots are in pre-season and a 6-0 aggregate win over Kauno Zalgiris marked their first competitive games since May.
Nevertheless, it will be one of the shocks of the round if Rovers do progress, as Dundalk found out when they lost 4-0 to another Cypriot side, AEK Larnaca, in the competition 12 months ago.
“We watched them. They’re a very, very good side,” Bradley told the Dublin Gazette.
“They’ll obviously fancy their chances of winning the tie but, although they’re a good side, we feel we can win the game.
“They’re definitely a level up [from Brann]. They’re a very good side. Their form in the last few years shows that – they’ve been in the group stages a few times.
“They’re a very good side and we know it’s going to a tough ask, but I believe we can win the tie.”
Whereas the bulk of Rovers squad is homegrown, with Dan Carr the only regular starter born outside Ireland, the Apollon squad is a multinational mix of homegrown and foreign imports.
“That’s obviously the way they go and the way they recruit. It doesn’t matter where you get them from, they’re big players, and it’s going to be a tough game.”
It’s been a big week on and off the pitch for the Tallaght club, as they had to fit a league game with UCD in between the two home Europa League ties.
Rovers recorded their biggest win of Bradley’s stewardship – equalling the record in Tallaght set against Dundalk in 2012 and Bray in 2013 – with a 7-0 hammering of the Students.
Aaron Greene and Aaron McEneff, subs against Brann, both put their hands up with a brace apiece, while Graham Cummins, Dan Carr and Jack Byrne were also on target.
“I’m delighted because it could be a difficult game coming off the back of the high of Thursday night,” said Bradley.
“To be fair to the group, they approached it really well, really professionally, and they were ruthless in the final third, which is good to see.
“When you’re playing big games like Thursday, the momentum is with you and we felt we didn’t want to change that too much.”