On the face of it, the failure of any of the four League of Ireland clubs to register a win on their first nights of European football this season doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the domestic game but, as ever in the context of the away goals rule, the good — as well as the devil — is in the detail.
In the Champions League, Dundalk will have been disappointed not to score at home to Riga but, in keeping the Latvians at bay at Oriel Park on Wednesday, Vinny Perth’s men can take heart from knowing that they are now the only side in the tie who can still benefit from the vital away goal.
In the Europa League, Shamrock Rovers have already done that, and on the double, a last-minute Roberto Lopes goal securing a 2-2 draw away to SK Brann, a result which puts the Hoops in a strong position ahead of the second leg in Tallaght though, as in the case of Dundalk, they still have plenty of work to do.
While both of those ties remain, as they say, finely poised, the same can’t be said for where St Patrick’s Athletic and Cork City find themselves after deeply disappointing first legs at home in the Europa League.
Both are already two-down, against IFK Norrkoping and Progres Niederkorn respectively, and will travel next week more in hope than expectation, knowing that they will need, if not quite the kind of spectacular comebacks with which European club football thrilled us at the business end of last season, then something not too very far off if they are simply to maintain interest in the competition beyond the first round.
The most deflating result of Thursday night came at Turner’s Cross where, even in this season of trial and tribulation for Cork City, most people still fancied the Rebels to at least seize the initiative against the largely unheralded visitors from Luxembourg.
But after a bright start gave way to a prolonged exercise in first half self-destruction by the home side, it was Progres Niederkorn who took full command of the tie, capitalising on two giveaway goals — and a missed penalty — before all too comfortably seeing out the second 45 against a shell-shocked City team.
After the feast of the last five years, this period of famine for Cork City is tough for all at the club to take, not least John Cotter who had theunenviable task of coming in after the first leg to face a media tribunal whose collective judgment was that this game was already up.
City’s failure to seriously trouble the Progres ‘keeper brought the most familiar concern on the pitch back into the spotlight, a deficiency of which the faithful would have been all too aware even without the presence in the stands on Thursday of Seanie Maguire as a flesh and blood reminder of recent glory days that are already beginning to feel like they belong to a distant past.
And it was against the backdrop of City’s recurring goal-shyness that Cotter was asked if it had been poor timing on the club’s part to let top scorer Graham Cummins leave for Shamrock Rovers.
The first thing is it wasn’t the club’s decision for Graham to go,” he insisted. “Was it bad timing? I don’t think so. A lot of people might disagree with me but I don’t. Not saying Graham wasn’t a great lad around the place, he was brilliant.
"But sometimes things get stale in certain places and I thought that was an area where it was.
“I thought it was maybe good for Graham to get a fresh start as well. We brought Marky (Mark O’Sullivan) back in. Bad timing? No,absolutely not.
“As I said, it wasn’t the club’s decision, it was my decision. I take full responsibility for it and I still back my decision to this day.”
But goals are exactly what Cork need in Luxembourg next week if they are to have any hope of staging their own improbable comeback, the players — whatever about the public — needing to travel in the belief that they’re engaged in something other than a mission impossible.
“If we go over there and score the first goal, the tie is open again,” said Cotter. “It’s pointless going over there with your tail between your legs and feeling sorry for yourself. And there’ll beno-one going over there like that, I can assure you of that.”
As it happens, Progres manager Roland Vrabec, while understandably delighted with what he called “the perfect result” in the first leg, doesn’t disagree with his Cork counterpart.
“I think next week is going to be a totally different game,” he said.
And difficult for us because now everything is in our hands. We are now the favourites and we have to deal with that situation. Nothing happened, we just won the first game. Everything can happen next week.
"If Cork scores one goal everything is open again so we have to be really, really careful. We have to score at least one goal to be sure. So it’s our job to play offensive, go for the first goal and make sure we go to the next round.”