Sligo Rovers and St Patrick's Athletic have ensured this has been a positive campaign for League of Ireland clubs in Europe, as they prepare to go up a level tonight.
With Sligo progressing through two rounds, including toppling Scottish side Motherwell, they are already ahead of expectations.
Pat’s were not considered favourites to beat Mura, but held their nerve on penalties last week.
Thoughts now turn to just how far the teams can go. A successful year is one thing, but with just two rounds to go, they will be dreaming of more.
The Bit O’ Red are in Norway to face a strong Viking FK side, while Pat’s face an even trickier task against CSKA Sofia.
The latter is available to watch live on the RTÉ News channel or on RTÉ Player.
CSKA Sofia v St Patrick's Athletic, 6pm, live on RTÉ News channel
St Patrick's Athletic have one of the stronger records of Irish clubs in Europe, and once again they progressed through a round last week.
It was an important victory for Tim Clancy as he tries to build a squad in Richmond Park amid a sea of changes since Stephen O’Donnell’s exit.
It was typical of their season so far that from winning in Europe came a defeat to First Division Waterford in the FAI Cup.
There is no doubt the Saints are a work in progress under Clancy.
CSKA have made a strong start to their domestic season and put four goals past Makedonija in the second round.
Ludogorets’ home performance against Shamrock Rovers offers a barometer – they finished 12 points clear of CSKA last year – so it’s a big ask for Pat’s to go to Sofia and deliver a result.
As mentioned, the Saints have done it before, from Russia to Bosnia and Slovenia last week.
CSKA were runners-up last year and lost the cup final with Alan Pardew in charge. He resigned shortly after, citing a racist culture among their supporters.
Training just finished at tomorrow's venue #StPatsFC #Saints2022 #SaintsInEurope #UECL 🔴⚪️ pic.twitter.com/swABTaBMHL— St Patrick's Athletic FC (@stpatsfc) August 3, 2022
As group stage regulars, including the last two seasons, Pat’s are certainly up against it.
They were unhappy with being unable to depart their flight to Bulgaria from Dublin Airport, with a lack of a departure slot forcing them to make the journey to Mayo to fly from Ireland West.
One other disadvantage in the tie is the second leg will be in Tallaght Stadium as Richmond Park falls short for the third round criteria.
Former Saints man Conan Byrne has warned of how difficult Pat's could find it in Bulgaria.
He told the RTÉ Soccer Podcast: "I think over the course of the two legs, St Pat's fully deserved to win against Mura. But now they're going in to play CSKA Sofia shortly and the step up between the two sides is vast.
"I've watched a couple of the highlights of CSKA Sofia over the last number of days and just the speed of their play, the technique of their players, is just something to behold really at this level and St Pat's will be completely up against it. But never say never."
Viewers can watch the game with RTÉ through the News channel.
The RTÉ News Channel is available through the following methods:
- Saorview - Channel 21
- Virgin Media - Channel 200
- Sky - Channel 521
- Eir - Channel 517
- RTÉ Player
Viking v Sligo Rovers, 6pm, live on LOI TV
Having ticked off two rounds for the first time ever, Sligo Rovers are in Norway tonight looking to lengthen their summer journey in Europe.
Viking's SR-Bank Arena will host the fixture, and like most stadiums where Irish clubs compete in Europe away from home, it is something to envy.
With a capacity of over 16,000, it's a fantastic setting for Sligo to play in, while fitted with an artificial pitch
The Bit O’ Red played on a similar surface against Bala Town so it won’t be the first time this European campaign.
That first round game had around 200 home fans present; tonight it'll be over 8,000, demonstrating the differences which come with the latter rounds of the Conference League.
It’s just the second time in the Rovers' history that they’ve played in round three. The previous was in 2011 against Ukranian outfit Vorskla Poltava, having been given a bye to that stage and not beaten a team in round two.
The Bit O’ Red produced one of the best performances in their history to secure an away draw, before two goals in 60 seconds killed the tie at home.
For Viking, they did reach a group stage in 2005 but have been waiting for a long European run this century.
Last year they lost at home to Aberdeen, but turned that form around by seeing off Sparta Prague over two legs last month.
When the draw was made, many had been expecting it to be Motherwell travelling to Prague this week, but it certainly didn't materialise that way.
It’s going to take another upset for Sligo to get through here and their focus will be on keeping the tie alive ahead of a sold out Showgrounds clash next week.
From the high of Motherwell, one of the great nights in their existence, came the low of an FAI Cup loss to Wexford at the weekend, demonstrating the lack of depth in the squad.
Just four of the starting team were chosen for that game, but more had to be called upon from the bench over the 120 minutes, and it’s going to take another big effort here with so much football played.
The Bit O’ Red made headlines in Norway eight years ago when they secured an away win against Rosenborg.
Many viewed it as a embarrassing night for the big name in Norwegian football, and they subsequently sacked their manager before turning the tie around in the next leg.
Expectations will be that Viking can progress and it's a certainty that they will offer a much more substantial threat than the Scottish opponents last week.
Sligo boss John Russell has warned that the home side will move the ball a lot faster than the British teams they've faced: "They are very good on transitions. They don't give up too many chances so we know they are a tough opponent.
"We are coming here to score tonight and get a result. Our league has developed technically and tactically and there are good young managers and coaches in this country.
"It's important for our clubs to progress through rounds in Europe."
History would be made if they can do it.
Sligo will host a large outdoor screen for hundreds of fans near the main street of the town for those who have not travelled to Norway. Those in attendance will be hoping that it is all to play for next week in The Showgrounds.
Watch CSKA Sofia v St Patrick's Athletic live on the RTÉ News channel on Thursday at 5.55pm, with a live blog on rte.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app, including updates on Viking FC v Sligo Rovers and then Shamrock Rovers v Shkupi at 8pm
We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
Listen to the RTÉ Soccer podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.