Shamrock Rovers have qualified for Europe for an eighth successive season, equalling their best run from 1962 to 1969. The League of Ireland record is held by Shelbourne with 12 from 1995 to 2006.
Last year against Teuta, Stephen Bradley surpassed Michael O’Neill’s club record of three ties won as manager. It was the first time since Belgrade 2011 that Rovers went through on the away leg.
This is the sixth meeting between League of Ireland and Maltese clubs in European competition but it’s Rovers’ first encounter with Maltese opposition.
Hoops physio Tony McCarthy was in the Shels side who were stunned by Hibernians at Tolka Park in the 2002 Champions League.
Rovers’ are 155th in UEFA Club Coefficients while Hibernians are in 179th place. In country rankings, Ireland are 42nd compared to Malta in 46th.
Hibs, celebrating their 100th anniversary, won their 19th league title last season and their first in five years. They suffered only one loss and finished two points ahead of Floriana with a 4-1 away win over their nearest rivals on the final day of the season.
Their top league scorer was 25 year old midfielder Jurgen Degabriele (14 goals) who also picked up the league’s Player of the Year award. He is their all-time European goalscorer with five goals.
Hibs’ new signing Lorenzo Fonseca is a Cape Verdean teammate of Pico Lopes. They made their international debut together in a friendly win over Togo in 2019.
Manager Stefano Sanderra, an Italian coach, has been in charge since 2018. Sanderra was among the four red cards received by Hibs in their controversial Conference League defeat to Riga last year which saw hefty bans by UEFA.
Both clubs were knocked out of Europe by Flora Tallinn last year. Flora were the first team to ever play Rovers twice in European competition and the first to score four goals in one game against the Hoops since Spurs in Tallaght in 2011.
Rovers had scored in five consecutive European games until Flora in Tallaght. They did six in a row under Stephen Bradley until AC Milan, and the club record is scoring in seven straight European matches from 1965 to 1967.
Rovers are unbeaten at home in 18 games in all competitions since the 1-0 defeat to Flora in the second leg last August. The Tallaght record is a run of 23 games until May 2021 against Sligo.
Rovers have scored in all but two of Stephen Bradley’s home European games, and they were AIK and AC Milan.
Sean Hoare is Rovers’ only ever-present this season, with 21 starts and 2 sub appearances in the league. He also started the President’s Cup game.
Finn Harps last Friday was Alan Mannus’ 93rd clean sheet for the club, leaving him just four away from Barry Murphy’s league record. He has 110 in all competitions but Alan O’Neill has the highest of any Hoops keeper (120).
Mannus is on 16 Rovers European appearances. Ronan Finn and Pico Lopes are the only players to appear in all of Rovers’ European games since 2017. Finn started all 18 while Pico was a substitute in one, at home to AIK.
Finn has only ever missed one out of a possible 32 of the club’s European games, at home to PAOK in the 2011 Europa League group stages.
Brian Crawley was an Irish striker who played for Floriana and Hibernians in the mid 90s. Crawley started out his career as a midfielder at the age of 16 with Rovers in the early 80s.
Luke Dimech played for Rovers in 2002, helping the Hoops to an FAI Cup final. He earned 78 caps for Malta.
Neil Farrugia, who has made two European appearances for Rovers (starts against Ilves and AC Milan in 2020) qualifies to play for the Malta national team through his grandfather.