Shelbourne prepare to tackle Spain’s big fish

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As such exalted clubs as Liverpool and Manchester United this week scrap for a lucrative place in this season's Champions League, they are joined unexpectedly in the third qualifying round by a minnow from across the Irish Sea.

Shelbourne of north Dublin on Wednesday take on Spanish side Deportivo La Coruña in what is regarded as Ireland's biggest ever club match. Shels, as they are known, earned the right to play Deportivo after a 2-0 victory over Hadjuk Split, of Croatia, last week. That result has been dubbed the best performance by an Irish club side.

The success is giving a shot in the arm to Ireland's football league, which for so long has suffered from the export of its best home-grown talent to the big English clubs. Few, if any, of the team would be household names even in Ireland.

The only slight disappointment for Shels captain Owen Heary is the decision to stage the match at Lansdowne Road, where Ireland plays its rugby and football internationals, and not the club's ground of Tolka Park. He says that only one of the team has ever played at Lansdowne Road. "It's like an away game for us. We're hoping to train there but it's not the same because we know every bump in Tolka Park."

The reasons behind the change of venue were financial. Tolka Park has a capacity of about 10,000, but Shels expect to double that number at Lansdowne Road.

Deportivo also agreed to play the Dublin leg first. As one Shels director put it: "If we went to Spain and were slaughtered, the return match would not attract much interest."

No one expects Shels to beat Deportivo, who reached the Champions League semi-finals last season. Before Wednesday's victory over the Croatians, Shels had not won a single game in 11 home matches in the competition since a 3-1 victory over Karpaty Lvov of Ukraine in 1993.

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