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Ports prove Euro success is possible

Joel Taggart | 14:23 UK time, Friday, 9 July 2010

I don't mind admitting I was more than a little surprised on Thursday night when I got a text message from Paul Kirk telling me Portadown had won the second leg of their Europa League qualifying tie in Latvia.

For so long we have been used to Irish League teams going through the motions of fulfilling European fixtures and hoping to make a few quid along the way - if they didn't have a nightmare trip to pay for.

ports_cele.jpg
Portadown celebrated Europa League success against Skonto Riga

As a result, the whole question of whether qualification for Uefa competitions was actually a benefit to Irish League teams raised its head - with different answers depending on who you happened to ask.

We all know the history. Uefa want to save the latter stages of the competitions for the big teams with the big players and the qualifying rounds are effectively a token gesture at weeding out the clubs from the smaller nations and throwing them some Swiss Francs to appease them.

That means the days of Linfield being stoppage time minutes away from a trip to the San Siro to face AC Milan are a thing of the past.

Or what about the Glentoran team that lost out to Benfica on away goals in 1967-68? A Benfica team that went on to contest the European Cup final at Wembley that same year.

Instead, we have become used to our sides losing to teams from Scandinavia or clubs from far flung corners of Eastern Europe with names that would earn you an impressive Scrabble score.

That is why the exploits of Portadown this week have been so refreshing and surprising.

Totally unexpected, barely back into pre-season, Ronnie McFall's Irish Cup runners-up, minus a number of key players, managed a home draw and an away win to book themselves a trip to Azerbaijan in the next round.

They will do well financially from it and they have given Irish League fans hope that with a little bit of belief, the right attitude and the luck of the draw, it is possible to win in Europe.

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