Finn's Euro debut in 2010 (left) and scoring his first goal 12 years later (right).

Then and now: Ronan Finn closing in on European history for a League of Ireland player

‘You get sick of moral victories when you do well but it’s just not good enough. It’s almost typical League of Ireland, you do well and then you fall.’

BARELY A MINUTE after Shamrock Rovers’ opener against Hibernians on Tuesday night a former teammate of the scorer sent out a tweet.

“Is that Ronan Finn’s first European goal???” Conan Byrne asked.

It was.

On the occasion of his 48th appearance in European action – for three different League of Ireland clubs – the Hoops captain finally broke his duck.

That he did so from his new position as a right wing-back, having first emerged as an attacking midfielder and then developed into an impressive box-to-box operator, is an indication of the Dubliner’s determination for longevity at the highest level in this country.

“It’s a testament to how he lives his life. He’s put his ego to the side when he’s come and said I can play right wing back,” manager Stephen Bradley explained afterwards.

“Someone with his experience and knowhow and what he has won in the game could have easily thrown his toys out a few years back.

“But we sat down and had a conversation and he puts all that to the side and focuses on playing and being better for the team. He’s been a brilliant captain, a brilliant leader.”

Byrne’s tweet on Tuesday seemed apt given he was a teammate of Finn with Sporting Fingal for his first European game in July 2010.

Now retired and working as a primary school teacher, the former winger shone a light on how Finn has spanned different generations.

He turns 35 this December and a quick scan of some of the other names on that team sheet for the Europa League qualifying defeat to CS Marítimo gives an indication of the passing of time.

ronan-finn-scores-a-goal-which-is-ruled-offside Ryan Byrne / INPHO Finn has a Euro goal disallowed for offside in 2010. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Colin Hawkins was centre back, Alan Kirby was on the wing, while Shaun Williams wore the armband as Finn’s partner in midfield.

Only goalkeeper Brendan Clarke is still operating in the Premier Division, fighting the good fight for Shelbourne – Sporting Fingal, of course, went bust less than a year after that European adventure.

“And I crossed for Glenn Crowe’s headed goal in the first leg,” Finn smiled of that debut. “They’re the nights you remember as a player when you retire.

European football at the moment is at a different level for moments. That’s where you want to be as a player.

“They’re big, big nights for the club, I still remember them fondly so getting back there is the goal. We’ve a long way to go before that. For the club, European nights are where you want to be.”

With a 3-0 lead heading into the second leg in Malta next week, only a complete disaster would prevent progress to the second qualifying round of the Champions League.

That would then ensure – in the worst case scenario – two more rounds of European football in the Europa and Conference Leagues.

Such a schedule would also give Finn a chance to make history as the League of Ireland player with the most appearances in European competition.

Retired goalkeeper Gary Rogers is the current holder with 54.

“That’s a small thing,” Finn insisted. “That’s something you look back at the end of your career if you get there.

“I’m delighted to get that goal. It keeps Graham Burke away because he reminds me about it every year. I’m glad to get that over with and hopefully get a few more before I retire.”

ronan-finn-celebrates-scoring-with-rory-gaffney Evan Treacy / INPHO Finn celebrates his goal with Rory Gaffney on Tuesday. Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Before he does he will want to be part of another side to have a crack at a group stage campaign.

He has enjoyed two already, during his first spell with Rovers for the ground breaking qualification for the Europa League in 2011, and then again in 2016 when he was a key figure for Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk.

The current crop at Tallaght Stadium are 10 points clear at the top of the Premier Division with a third title in a row in sight – but Finn admits doing their stuff in Europe is now required.

“It’s a very experienced group. The age profile of the squad is quite old now.

“I’m remember playing a few years ago when we were a young group. Now, everybody has clocked a good few appearances and we’ve all got a few more melds under our belts.

All that experience helps. We worked so hard last year to win a league to get to this position and you don’t want it to fall at the first hurdle.

“I think last year against Slovan Bratislava, who are a really good side, we gave a good account of ourselves. But as a player you get sick of moral victories when you do well but it’s just not good enough,” he continued.

“It’s almost typical League of Ireland, you do well and then you get to the European nights and you fall.

“You want to be the ones who are stepping out on the big nights. For us as a group we’ve got to do that.”

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