Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill could be set for an emotional return to his first ever club Lisburn Distillery - one of three potential opponents in the third round of the Intertoto Cup.
Villa’s passage to the event in mid-summer was secured on Sunday after his side’s thrilling 2-2 draw with West Ham, coupled with a helping hand from Second City rivals Birmingham whose 4-1 defeat of Blackburn Rovers meant Mark Hughes’ side missed out.
Should Distillery come through the first two rounds before Villa’s introduction to the tournament,it would be a real stroll down memory lane for the Northern Irishman who began his career there after switching from the Gaelic football code.
O’Neill joined Distillery FC in Northern Ireland in 1971 after being spotted playing gaelic at St. Malachy’s College. He went on to help the side win the Irish Cup that year, scoring twice in the final.
It was while playing for Distillery and scoring against Barcelona in a 3-1 defeat in the Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup, that he was spotted by a scout for Nottingham Forest where he went on to spend ten hugely successful years including sampling the ultimate European Cup success.
To play Distillery again would be a great delight for the Villa boss although his side could also draw Finnish side TPS Turku or an unnamed Danish side with their league season still running until May 24.
O’Neill said he was looking forward to the competition particularly now that it had changed from previous years when it used to involve several rounds to far-flung destinations all over Europe.
The Intertoto now for English Premier league sides involves one two-legged tier with the winning side going through to the Uefa Cup qualifiers.
The Villa boss said: "There are drawbacks to being in the Intertoto but you don’t have to play umpteen games to progress from it any more.
"This time last year we were not equipped to play in it at all. It was a big season and a big push to finish 11th. Now we have improved significantly and have finished sixth. We finished with 60 points which is a terrific achievement considering we have had a small squad all season."
Lisburn Distillery v TPS Turku
First-leg: June 21/22
Second-leg: June 28/29
The winners will face Danish opposition.
First-leg: July 5/6
Second-leg: July 12/13
Villa enter the competition at the third stage and will be away in the first game.
First-leg: July 19/20
Second-leg: July 26/27