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Special day for St Patrick's

ONE telephone call to the offices of St Patrick's Athletic in the immediate aftermath of yesterday morning's draw for the third qualifying round of the Champions League was enough to sum up how the Dublin-based club feels about the prospect of a visit from Celtic.

"We're hopping up and down here," blurted out the receptionist. "What a great incentive that is."

Clearly, the thrill of being presented with the possibility of a meeting with Ronny Deila's side was enough to obliterate any clouds of despondency left over from their own latest sojourn into Europe.

St Patrick's have a fine chance of securing a lucrative match-up against the SPFL Premiership titleholders after drawing 1-1 with Legia Warsaw in Poland on Wednesday night.

However, they should be in a much stronger position after going into stoppage-time in the Wojska Polskiego Stadium with their noses in front thanks to a first-half goal from Christy Fagan, once on the books of Hamilton Academical.

A lack of concentration at the back led to Miroslav Radovic being afforded the space to equalise with an angled shot from the right of the area and ensure next week's return in Shamrock Rovers' Tallaght Stadium - Saints' Richmond Park in the suburb of Inchicore has been deemed unsuitable because of anticipated crowd numbers - is likely to be the most tense of affairs.

Anthony Delaney, board member and club secretary, was at UEFA headquarters in Nyon to watch the balls being drawn and knows exactly what winning through to play Celtic would mean in terms of financial reward and two of the most almighty hooleys on either side of the Irish Sea.

"Being drawn against either KR Reykjavik or Celtic is huge for us," said Delaney. "It will be massive for us to progress. If it is Celtic, it would be phenomenal because there is a huge Irish-based Celtic support and we would expect a full house and a huge game. We have been away from the Champions League for a while. We have been in the Europa League for a few years. It is great to be back."

From Celtic's perspective, a victory for St Patrick's would mean less travelling and less upheaval providing they fulfil their part of the bargain and finish the job after beating KR Reykjavik 1-0 in Iceland in midweek. However, John Collins, the Parkhead club's assistant manager, accepts that fans would relish a trip to Dublin on July 29 or 30 - just a matter of days after a July 26 friendly with St Pauli in Hamburg. "There's no doubt there would be a wonderful atmosphere," said Collins. "The Celtic fans would love that. It would be an easier trip for everybody, but we'll see.

"Our scouts will be out and about this weekend taking in both teams. We will cover every eventuality and we will study the reports when they come back."

Confidence remains strong at St Patrick's despite those midweek disappointments. "We would like to think we will [qualify]," said Buckley. "We have a better vision and a better handle on the way they [Legia] play and I hope that will help us in next week's game."

Keith Fahey, formerly of Birmingham City, serves as the midfield lynchpin for Buckley's side and was outstanding against Legia, but the manager expects his team to show a little more composure when in possession in the return.

"Keith and Greg Bolger controlled midfield," he said. "They worked extremely hard to keep to our game plan, but they all worked hard.

"I think we can improve our ball retention, though."

Between Celtic and St Patrick's and those two, highly-anticipated Scots-Irish parties, though, stands a former Rangers man. Henning Berg is head coach of Legia Warsaw and insists his side will be far sharper when they travel to Ireland with the intention of making up for a below-par showing at home.

"We are extremely disappointed with the performance," said Berg, who finished his playing career at Ibrox in 2004. "We were not able to get to our best level while St Patrick's did. The tie is not over, though. It is very possible for us to go and win in Ireland. I would be very surprised if we don't see a different Legia team next week."

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