THOUGH THEY MIGHT not have realised it at the time, those Sligo Rovers fans who were present in the Aviva Stadium for the Europa League Final two weeks ago witnessed not only a memorable triumph for FC Porto but also a moment of great significance for their own club.
Radamel Falcao’s 44th-minute header not only propelled Porto to a 1-0 win but, by virtue of the fact that the Portuguese side had already qualified for next season’s Champions League, also launched Sligo into the third qualifying round of the 2011/2012 Europa League.
It was at this stage last year that Shamrock Rovers met and subsequently crashed out to Italian giants Juventus, though the Tallaght club had to dispose of Israeli outfit Bnei Yehuda just to have that honour.
Now, with the “Bit O’Red” dreaming of a potential glamour tie against Atletico Madrid or Stoke City among others, club chiefs are adamant that they will do everything in their power to ensure that the tie can be held at the Showgrounds.
Under the tournament rules, a venue must be verified as at least a Category 3 stadium in order to be used in the third qualifying round. A Category 3 stadium is one which, among other things, can accommodate at least 4,500 seated spectators and which contains no standing areas.
“We’re absolutely delighted to be awarded a place in round three,” General Manager Packie Lynch said yesterday. “It’s a great reward for what the club achieved in 2010 and we’ll now being doing everything in our power to make sure the match takes place in The Showgrounds.”
The ground is in fantastic condition currently but there is extra work needed to be carried out to host the game, including around 2000 extra seats and other necessities.
In order to make sure that there are no hiccups in the process, an FAI Licensing Officer was invited to accompany club chairman Michael Toolan on a stadium inspection yesterday with a view to highlighting any potential areas of concern.
With the game set to be one of the biggest in the club’s history, Lynch is aware that it would be a “huge shame” if the home fixture of the two-legged tie had to be played elsewhere.
“Failure for The Showgrounds to meet UEFA criteria would mean the game would have to be moved out of the county and at great cost to the club,” he said.
It would be a huge shame if this were to happen because as a club we believe this could be one of the finest days in the history of football in the North-West if we were to be paired a club in the stature of some of the seeded teams in round three.
One improvement which Sligo are likely to have to make is the installation of temporary “bucket” seats which comply with UEFA regulations. Though seating of this type is often prohibitively costly for a once-off fixture, the club are confident that they can count on the fans’ support if necessary.
“Sligo Rovers have made great strides in recent years,” said Lynch, “and I have no doubt that the initiatives we put in place to help our bid to host the game in Sligo will be widely supported.”
The draw for the first and second qualifying rounds of both the Champions League and the Europa League will take place on 20 June. League champions Shamrock Rovers will be seeded in the draw for the second qualifying round of the Champions League, while St. Patrick’s Athletic and Bohemians will be seeded for the first and second qualifying rounds of the Europa League respectively.