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The thing in life that gives me most pleasure that I can actually get past an editor for this piece is expanding my geographical knowledge.
Ironically, the mediums through which I achieve this are both Irish.
Firstly, there’s the low-cost, shrewd-tweeting Ryanair. Say what you like about them, but I’d like to see you get to Marrakech for a fiver without them.
Yes, you’ve got to have legs shorter than eighteen inches in order to fit comfortably in their seats and their lasagnes taste like the socks I wore to my last teenage disco, but at least they don’t expect you to clap when they land.
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But away from that, it’s the plight of the Irish sides in European qualifiers. There’s countries on this planet that I wouldn’t even have known existed if it wasn’t for our bald pal Infantino drawing St. Pat’s onto a chartered flight to Karagandy.
On this occasion, Shamrock Rovers are the representation south of the border while Linfield, once again, won the Northern Irish Premiership, pipping Cliftonville by a point.
That’s all well and good domestically but how will they get on when they’re not playing a team of their second cousins? Let’s take a look.
The New Saints are one of those clubs that everyone doesn’t mind getting in the draw, only to realise that they’re really tricky opposition – far outperforming the reputation of the Welsh top tier.
They got past Glentoran quite easily last year, before thumping Zalgiris and then were very unlucky to go out to Viktoria Plzen on penalties.
I’d be very confident that TNS should win this game in particular. They haven’t lost any of their last five first legs in European competition, netting 15 times en route.
Linfield might have had a stellar defensive record in the league last year comparatively, but this is a very different test and I’d be confident taking Over 2.5 Goals.
I will always, always begin with the same point when it comes to Irish sides in European competition.
Irish weather might have been the key factor when it came to moving the league to a summer season, but it was also a subconscious effort to better results in Europe.
You see, you’re midseason fit by the time qualifiers come around when you play in the League of Ireland – a notable advantage over most leagues in Europe. That alone makes me think Shamrock Rovers will win this tie comfortably.
However, there’s next to no value in taking them to win the first leg. In this instance, Stephen Bradley has set his side up to be defensively strong and catch teams with both quality of delivery into the box and moments of magic from Jack Byrne.
It’s definitely worth siding with Under 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score – No if you’re dabbling in the goal markets.
Especially as Jack Byrne is sidelined Danny Mandriou is off to Lincoln City. They might need to rethink how they attack a side who’ll sit in quite deep.
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