After earning a solid result in Poland, the League of Ireland champions were easily deposed in the second leg of their Champions League second qualifying round tie
By Ryan Kelly
A week is a long time in football. From the dizzying jubilation of their hard-fought 1-1 draw in Poland, St Patrick's Athletic came crashing ponderously back to earth as they were easily beaten 5-0 by Legia Warsaw at Tallaght on Wednesday evening. After a week where Saints fans dreamt of luxurious encounters with Celtic in the snug embrace of the Aviva Stadium, Liam Buckley's men are now left to wonder what might have been and Irish football scrambles frantically for an explanation.
"Investment!" came the cry. Like a tired cliche it was immediately rolled out to explain away the deficiencies of the Irish domestic game. Speaking in his role as a television pundit for Setanta Sports, Limerick manager Martin Russell, who was previously assistant manager to Liam Buckley at St Pat's, was resolute in his belief that a lack of financial input is ultimately at the root of Irish clubs' consistently floundering performances in Europe.
Indeed, throughout the build-up to the encounter with the Polish champions, Buckley himself frequently referred to the massive gap in resources between the two sides. “Their budget is something like €25 million,” the St Pat's boss told reporters ahead of the second leg. “It's just a different league to where we're at locally.”
Buckley and Russell are not wrong. With a sparkling new stadium and a plethora of senior internationals within their ranks, it is not difficult to spot the dichotomy between the Polish giants and the team from Inchicore. However, the plain truth is that lack of investment did not hinder Buckley's team in Warsaw, where they would – and should – have recorded a heroic victory, but for the cruel last-minute goal of Miroslav Radovic. Neither did that same lack of investment work its mysterious ways against Sligo Rovers when they deservedly triumphed over Rosenborg in the Europa League.
At Tallaght it was a completely different performance from St Pat's. After forging an advantageous result in Poland, through a combination of stout defending and incisive counter-attacking football, they simply crumbled and became what Ger O'Brien aptly termed 'just another hard luck story'.
Arguably, Legia came to Ireland smarting from their near-miss and thus better prepared for the challenge - Henning Berg did, after all, make three changes to the team that started the first leg - but, barring Ken Oman's late replacement by Derek Foran, this was the exact same team that led for the majority of the game in Poland. Regardless of any amount of investment, a team with a porous defence is not going to win football matches.
The game is played, first and foremost, in the mind, away from the hypnotic optics of money mountains and sugar daddies. There is absolutely no doubt that Irish football would benefit from an injection of finance, but it needs to be earned and first, must come the attitude; the very same attitude that allowed St Pat's to score a tremendously worked team goal against the odds last week; the attitude that inspired Shamrock Rovers to become the first, and to date only, Irish team to compete in the group stage of the Europa League. Without that, the investment won't come and Irish football won't be saved.