It is rare enough that Irish teams make any sort of impact on the European stage.
In the past, both Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk FC have flirted with the Europa League, and Stephen Kenny’s relative success in the competition with Dundalk was one of the reasons that he was chosen for the Republic of Ireland position.
This season, Shamrock Rovers have progressed to the group stages of the Europa Conference League, where they have been placed in a group with Gent, FC Molde and Djurgardens IF of Sweden.
Truthfully, I’m fairweather fan when it comes to the Irish league.
Shamrock Rovers’ stadium is no more than a ten minute drive from my home but my attendance is sporadic, I find the Friday night kickoffs a little off-putting, and the same applies to the standards in certain games.
There is a major difference in quality between the teams at the top and bottom of the league. At the top, the likes of Rovers and Derry City FC would be lower-end Championship or high League One standard, whereas the teams near the bottom would be closer to National League level.
All summer, I have followed the progress of Rovers through the European competitions, during which time they have acquitted themselves quite well and are probably unfortunate to be in the Conference League.
In the Europa League playoffs, they played Ludogorets of Bulgaria, probably the most difficult opponent they could have faced, and ultimately came up short.
Rovers’ playing style is attractive to watch, with players like Jack Byrne, as well as up-and-coming coming Irish star Justin Ferizaj in the team, so I decided to purchase a three-game ticket to see how they fared against different European teams.
As my friend and I arrived at the ground, little did we know that the player leading the line for the Swedish outfit was none other than ex-Sunderland striker Joel Asoro.
Asoro’s career trajectory was always one that interested me. He showed plenty of ability during his early days before tailing off quite rapidly. Since then, his move to Swansea, and subsequent loan moves have been disappointing, and it appeared that his career prospects were in danger of fading before they really began.
Nevertheless, a move home to Sweden has offered Asoro hope. His nine goals in forty nine games tell the story of a player with ability, but who perhaps still lacks the consistency to become a regular for club and country.
His performance in this particular game summed him up. There were flashes of quality which were followed by periods where he seemed disinterested and not fully engaged.
One thing that was very evident was his physique. At Sunderland, Asoro was still quite raw, but some years later, it appears that his youthfulness has been replaced by that of a strong and athletic footballer.
Playing off the right, he tended to drop into pockets outside the box, and was often a focal point as his teammates consistently tried to play balls into his feet. In addition, Asoro showed strength and a willingness to hold the ball up, and it was surprising to see him used in this fashion, considering his stature and the supposed danger created when he runs in behind defences.
There were glimpses of that danger when, on a couple of occasions, he sat on the last man and got in behind. Unfortunately for him, he was either deemed to be offside, or Rovers’ goalkeeper Alan Mannus snuffed out the danger in such instances.
Simply put, it never looked like it was going to be Asoro’s night.
Chances were few and far between; he struggled to get into the right areas to threaten substantially, and he cut a frustrated figure, both at the lack of service and the physical nature of the Rovers defence. His game finished just after the hour mark with very little to report, and in truth, it was a disappointing performance during a disappointing game.
Similar to his time at Sunderland, Asoro’s talent is unquestionable but doubts remain regarding his consistency and application.