Hearts could be reunited with Pat Fenlon in Europa League
Hearts could be reunited with 5-1 manager Pat Fenlon or face a horror 4000-mile trip to southern Kazakhstan in the first round of next season's Europa League.
Twenty-eight teams have already qualified for next season’s competition and Shamrock Rovers, managed by former Hibs boss Fenlon, are one of the clubs Hearts – who will almost certainly be seeded – could be paired with. Fenlon was in charge of the Hibees when Hearts annihilated them 5-1 in the Scottish Cup final back in 2012.
A trip across the Irish Sea to Dublin would be favoured far more than an arduous 4200-mile odyssey to Shymkent, in southern Kazakhstan, where Ordabasy play. They finished fourth in the Kazakh Premier League and will be unseeded. They are a potential opponent for Robbie Neilson’s men, who would have to fly for more than 12 hours to a city that is a close to Scotland as the Afghan capital Kabul.
Two other Kazakh teams in Kairat Almaty – who knocked Aberdeen out of this season’s Europa League – and Aktobe Lento are also in the competition, but they are likely to be seeded alongside Hearts.
Other eastern European clubs Hearts may face include Belarussian outfit Shakhtyor Soligorsk, Lithuanian team Atlantas and Nõmme Kalju from Estonia. However, with three League of Ireland teams, a trio of Northern Irish outfits and also Welsh clubs involved, the Jambos may be rewarded with a tie closer to home.
Hearts will get a clearer indication of which unseeded clubs they will face once domestic competitions across the continent come to an end in the coming weeks.
Teams already qualified for the Europa League first round:
Republic of Ireland: Cork City, Shamrock Rovers, St Patrick’s Athletic.
Belarus: Dinamo Minsk, Shakhtyor Soligorsk.
Sweden: IFK Gothenburg, AIK Solna.
Norway: Stabaek, Odd.
Kazakhstan: Kairat Almaty, Aktobe Lento, Ordabasy.
Finland: IFK Mariehamn, RoPS, HJK Helsinki.
Iceland: Valur, Breiðablik, KR Reykjavik.
Lithuania: Trakai, Atlantas.
Latvia: Skonto Riga, Ventspils.
Estonia: Levadia Tallinn, Nõmme Kalju.
Faroe Islands: Víkingur Gøta, NSI Runavik, HB.