So, it's that time of the year again when European football is on our doorsteps. It's the one time all year when footballers in this country actually feel like somebodys.
They go from one end of the domestic season to the other without anybody knowing who they are - apart from their own supporters - but when it's European football everybody wants to know you.
The media interest in the games is just unbelievable, and makes you wonder why can't they have this coverage all year round?
It was without a shadow of a doubt my most memorable time as a footballer in this country, and I'm sure if you ask any current League of Ireland player they will tell you the exact same thing.
In total, I was involved in 20 European games, mixed between Champions League, UEFA Cup and Europa League, with clubs such as Shelbourne, St Pat’s, Dundalk and Longford Town. I say that last one quietly, because it was my least favourite time as a footballer in this country.
Another reason I absolutely loved the European games was because they were always so technical, with the football played based on possession of the ball. You would also be picked for these games based on technical ability, which wasn't always the case back in the league, with a couple of managers in particular preferring to pick big strong workhorses rather than the footballers.
If you were to go through the vast majority of players in recent years, and who are currently playing in our league, and accumulate the amount of games and experience they have picked up in Europe it is astounding. You could spend 10 years playing in England and never experience European football.
The move to summer soccer in this country may have its faults in some people’s minds, but nobody can argue that it has enhanced our teams’ chances in Europe.
The strides our clubs have taken in recent years have being astronomical compared to the days when qualifying for European competition was seen as a bonus and a free holiday and to go away and get annihilated.
Since the famous European run of Shelbourne, and that tie with Deportivo La Coruna in Landsdowne Road in front of 24,000 fans in 2004, our clubs have competed year in and year out.
You only have to look at the achievements of Shamrock Rovers last season to see how far we have come.
A year on and I was a very interested spectator at Tallaght Stadium last night to see just how they would fare this season. To be honest, I was fearful for them because of their awful form in the league, but thankfully all that was put to one side and they performed just like we know they can.
They were much the better team and should have scored at least two, if not three, on the night. It must also be pointed out that their Lithuanian opposition weren't exactly top class, but they could be a different animal on their home patch.
In saying that, though, I've seen enough to suggest that Shamrock Rovers can go over there and qualify for the next round. I don't think they will hit the heights that they did in Europe last year, but they are well capable of beating this team and who knows where this journey could end.
Now the baton is passed onto Sligo Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic in the Europa League. It is the second qualifying round and both sides face very stiff opposition - a Slovakian team and a Bosnian team, respectively. I don't know a great deal about these teams, but what I have heard and read it will be tough for both Irish teams.
Sligo Rovers couldn't be going into this game on any more of a high. They are six points clear in the Airtricity League Premier Division, their top marksman Danny North has just extended his contract, and they officially unveiled their new stand this week ready for the return leg at the Showgrounds. Hopefully, they can keep the tie alive for this opening next week because it could prove to be a memorable night in the Yeats county next Thursday.
From what I have seen of Ian Baraclough he is very thorough and will have his homework done, and I think Sligo are well capable of going over to Slovakia and picking up a very respectable result.
St Pat’s, on the other hand, go into this game having already come through a difficult assignment in Iceland last week, so they too should be full of confidence.
Of the three Irish teams left competing in Europe, I think Pat’s are the most equipped for European football as their game is based around keeping possession of the ball, which, as I pointed out earlier, is crucial at this level. So, again, I have no doubt they will be well prepared, and I would also be very hopeful that they can pick up another respectable result away from home.
I have left Bohemians’ terrible result to last because I am hoping after the great strides we have made in Europe over the years that this result is just a flash in the pan. That is all I am going to say on it for now.
Let's hope as many of you can get out and support the league this week and next because, as I said, there is no better feeling for a player here than to get a good result in Europe and do the league and the country proud.
Until next week...