Saint Patrick’s Athletic face a trip into the unknown today as they begin their Europa League campaign in Reykjavik, Iceland, against IBV Vestmannaeyjar this evening in the Vodafone-Völlerin (kick-off 7pm Irish time).
Preparations ahead of the tie have been far from ideal for Pete Mahon’s side. The Saints left the capital for Reykjavik on Tuesday, while the Pats manager has admitted to knowing little about the opposition and enlisting the services of former Saints boss and current Faroe Islands manager, Brian Kerr, to gather information on the Icelandic side.
However, in spite of the difficulties the side have faced off the field this week, Saints’ club captain Conor Kenna, who has resumed light training from the knee injury suffered back in March, is confident that the players can progress past the first qualifying round of the Europa League.
“We’re top of the league and on a good run, so why not. We don’t know much about them, but hopefully the lads will do the business over there, bring it back to Inchicore and get through.”
Pats’ 14 games unbeaten have seen them catapulted to the top of the league ahead of local rivals Shamrock Rovers, a side who at one point led the Saints by eight points. One of the key players in this great form has been central defender Evan McMillan. Captain at UCD last year, the prospect of playing European football was a key factor in McMillan joining the Saints from UCD and one he is now relishing.
“It will be a different experience, and something we’re all looking forward to. Pete said that we’ll need to pass to the ball better than we did against Bray [last Friday] but that was due to the conditions. We will need to play slightly different I’d say, but I think we’re well capable with the run we’re on.”
If the Inchicore side’s recent European record is anything to go by, Pete Mahon’s side should progress through to the next round to face either Slovenians FC Koper or Kazakhstani side Shaktar Karagandy. However netminder Gary Rogers, the only player left from their last run in Europe, which included victories over Maltese side Valletta and Russian side Krylya Sovetov before losing to Romanian giants Steaua Bucharest, remains realistic about the challenge facing the Dubliners.
“European games are always difficult. It’s very hard to know as there’s never more than a goal in the difference either way. There wouldn’t be a huge gulf in class between us and the Icelandic teams, so it just depends on how it goes on the day.”
“Obviously it’s important to go over there and get a good result, you don’t want to be coming back 1-0 or 2-0 down. But if we can get an away goal, as everyone says, it would be very important.