Shamrock Rovers have made the journey to Paola, a commercial town in the South East of Malta, about three miles away from the capital city of Valletta.
The purpose of their trip being to play the second leg, of their first qualification round tie, for the 2022/23 Champions League competition, against Hibernians FC.
Stephen Bradley’s men take an imposing 3-0 advantage into this one, following the pairs first leg clash in Tallaght.
Goals from Ronan Finn, Dylan Watts, and Man of the Match, Rory Gaffney have put one foot into the next round for the Hoops.
If successful, Rovers will face either Ludogorets of Bulgaria, or Sutjeska from Montenegro. With the reigning Bulgarian champions carrying a 2-0 aggregate lead from the first leg.
Shamrock Rovers are seemingly in for a lengthy European run this year.
If they do the job on Tuesday evening against Hibernians, worst case scenario for them is a position in the Europa Conference League group stage play-offs. And, of course, all the mouth-watering prize money that comes with a good run in Europe.
With all of the positive talk surrounding Rovers, what about their Maltese opponents?
Hibernians were founded in 1922, with the club celebrating their centenary year in 2022.
Back then, they were known as Constitutionals FC, representing the pro-British Constitutional political party.
Later changing their name to Hibernians FC in 1930, in honour of the Scottish side with the same name who were founded by Irish Catholics, after the Constitutional Party burned their bridges with the Catholic Church.
Hibernians are the reigning Maltese Premier League champions, beating Floriana to the punch by only three points.
This was the Peacocks 13th league title, with their first coming in 1961.
1961 was also the year Hibernians first made a splash in Europe. Competing in the 1961/62 European Cup, crashing out in the preliminary round, losing 7-1 on aggregate to Swiss side, Servette FC.
They faced, and subsequently lost to some giants of the game in their early European adventures.
Facing Atletico Madrid in the first round of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1962/63, Manchester United in the first round of the European Cup in 1967/68, and Real Madrid in the first round of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1970/71.
Hibernians are well versed when it comes to facing League of Ireland teams in Europe too.
Jim McLaughlin’s Dundalk knocked them out of the 1979/80 European Cup. The following year, Waterford dumped them out of the European Cup Winners’ Cup, beating them 4-1 over two legs.
However, they got one back on the Irish. Beating Shelbourne 3-2 on aggregate in the first qualification round of the 2002/03 Champions League.
That was the first of three occasions that Hibernians made it to the second qualification round of the Champions League.
Following their triumph against Shels, they were hammered 7-3 on aggregate against Portugal’s Boavista FC.
In later years, Maccabi Tel Aviv of Israel, and Austrian outfit Red Bull Salzburg sent them packing in 2015, and 2018 respectfully.
The Maltese powerhouse went one further throughout their European run in 2021/22.
While they lost to Estonia’s Flora Tallinn in the opening qualification round of the Champions League. They earned themselves a slot in the third qualification round in that seasons Europa Conference League competition. Unfortunately losing out to Riga FC, 4-2 on aggregate.
Overall, Hibernians have competed 85 times in Europe, winning 15, drawing nine, and losing 61. Leaving them with a win percentage of just 17.65%.
Malta’s Mission Impossible
They’ve a squad mostly comprised of Malta internationals, a nation that has never qualified for a major FIFA or UEFA competition, and finished bottom of Group H in qualification for World Cup 2022 in Qatar.
Going off the first encounter between Shamrock Rovers and Hibernians, you really couldn’t pick out any player from the Malta outfit that shined. The benefit of summer football really came into play for the Dublin natives, looking the much sharper, and clinical team.
Especially in the opening half hour, where Rovers looked head and shoulders above their counterparts.
Hibernians will need to produce something special at the Tony Bezzina Stadium on Tuesday evening.
With both Jack Byrne and Graham Burke coming back into the Shamrock Rovers fold after their injuries, that certainly looks like a tall order.
But, everyone here at the Big Kick Off will be rooting for Shamrock Rovers, along with every other League of Ireland side in Europe.