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Ben Whitley/INPHO Tim Clancy's St Patrick's Athletic are set to begin their European adventure next month.
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St Pat's look ahead to potential Euro date with Tottenham's conquerors
Tim Clancy’s side could be set for a tricky tie with Slovenian club Mura.

TIM CLANCY says St Patrick’s Athletic are hoping for a run in Europe to boost their season after their potential opponents in the second qualifying round of the Europa Conference League were confirmed on Wednesday.

The draw dictated that the Saints will play the winner of the first-round tie between Moldova’s Sfintul Gheorghe and Slovenian club Mura, with the first and second legs of the Irish side’s matches set for 21 and 28 July.

And Mura could prove to be particularly difficult opponents should they progress.

The Maribor-based outfit made it as far as the group stages last season, subsequently pulling off a famous victory against Antonio Conte’s Tottenham, whose starting XI on the night included England star Harry Kane and Ireland’s Matt Doherty, in what proved to be Spurs’ final game in Europe last season.

Speaking in the aftermath of Wednesday’s draw, Clancy said: “That’s the aim for Pat’s, to try and qualify for Europe and now we are here the aim is to progress as far as we can in the competition.

“There are four or five games before we play the European ties so whoever it is, Mura or the one from Moldova [Sfintul Gheorghe], it will take care of itself. The important thing is to get ourselves in a position to compete and qualify again next year so we can focus on Europe when it does come up and try to get through a few rounds.”

And the manager warned his side will not face an easy task irrespective of who they ultimately come up against.

“I was slagging Jamie [Moore, the Pat’s press officer] yesterday who released a video saying they ‘only’ won one game in their Conference group last year. That one game was Spurs. That’s Mura if they progress. You can see the level of team they were competing against last year. I know they were competitive in the group with Rennes only beating them by one goal at home and then away it was [2-1].

“The other team from Moldova could come through that one as well. Obviously, if they’re beating the team that was in the group stages of the Conference League last year, they should be at a decent level as well.

“So just because they’re not a household name, there’s a lot of money and decent players playing in these countries and the positives for us is both teams will be in pre-season so whoever does win, we’re hoping that we get them when they’re back four or five weeks.

“We’ll be back six months at that stage and that’s where we’re hoping to capitalise.”

Clancy also ideally will get a chance to see Sfintul Gheorghe and Mura in the flesh before coming up against one of them.

“Listen, that’s the plan. Logistically, if we’re able to get over, you preferably want to get over to the second leg and see who is in the draw. It’s difficult to fly to these places, but there are loads of platforms where you can watch players and get information and we’ll certainly be utilising that. But it would be good to see if we can get our eyes on them as well.”  

Pat’s will return to action with a game at home to bottom side UCD on Friday, with the majority of players having had a few weeks’ break with the international window bringing the season to a temporary halt.

Not everyone could relax, however. Darragh Burns was part of the Ireland U21 squad that secured a historic playoff place, while fellow youngsters Adam O’Reilly, Joe Redmond and David Odumosu were on standby.

In addition to sitting his Leaving Cert, James Abankwah was involved with Ireland U19s, as was Sam Curtis, while Jack Scott was with Northern Ireland’s U21s.

“We had a bounce game against Drogheda last week which was good to get minutes into the lads’ legs and then it is match prep this week,” Clancy added. “It was important to get a few days off as well because, with the five or six Monday games scheduled in the first 13 weeks of the season, it is heavy loading, but I suppose that does help now for the teams in Europe. It is maybe three league games in July. It’s important to get the breaks when you can.”

Clancy was also asked about the potential development of Richmond Park and seemed optimistic that progress was being made behind the scenes.

“There are loads of plans off the pitch and I know the chairman is very active in regards to getting a new stadium, and I know there is a lot of support for it as well.

“Hopefully, that can get all the green lights and it can go ahead.

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“I know there are also plans for an academy and training facility that the first team can tie into.

“The more of them we get in the country, where clubs have their own training facilities and new stadiums are built as well, the better it will be in terms of the product.

“Then you see Gavin Bazunu going to Southampton. If that gets through, it’s a lot of money that Shamrock Rovers are making from that.

“I think the better facilities we have and stadiums we have dotted around the country, you’d hope to see a lot more deals like that, where you mightn’t get it frontloaded, but it comes down the line.

“Instead of clubs in England taking our players to their academies, if we have the structures in this country where we can develop them, get them into the first-team and then they move over and get sold on for big money, it’s going back into the League of Ireland rather than lower down in the pyramid in England.”

He continued: “I know Finn Harps have plans for a stadium, Drogheda, Pat’s, the Shelbourne and Bohs situation, Derry have upgraded their stadium recently and I know there is more development there, Sligo have plans for a new stadium as well.

“There are a lot of clubs in the country who are ambitious and I think with the government getting behind it, that’s the biggest key.

“I know the situation with housing in the country, it can get prioritised, but sport is a massive part of the culture and it gives a lot of people a lot of joy. And football is probably the most-participated-in sport as well, so to have a strong national league would filter down and be beneficial to the country as a whole.”

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