Rovers relish the prospect of the Old Lady

by Ian Walsh

Five years ago Shamrock Rovers owed a shocking €2.36million. Now, having been taken over by the club’s supporters they are facing one of the biggest nights in their history – as they take on Italian giants Juventus, tonight, in a potentially money-spinning tie in the third round of qualifying in the Europa League. Michael O’Neill’s side surprised us all by beating Israeli side Bnei Yehudi on Thursday last, but can they go one further and cause an even bigger upset against the Old Lady?

Rovers’ 2-1 victory on aggregate spared the League of Ireland’s blushes after current league champions Bohemians were brushed aside by Welsh side TNS 4-0 in their qualification for the Champions League. Sporting Final were also knocked out 6-4 on aggregate by Maritmo,  while Dundalk were given an 8-0 aggregate spanking at the hands of Levski Sofia.  This means that the coefficients for next season put the league in a very bad position – coupled with if the Hoops lose quite badly in their ties against Juventus.

This is the first time that Rovers have contested in Europe since 2003 when they took part in the Intertoto Cup, bowing out in the second round after a 4-0 aggregate defeat to Sloan Liberec. Since then, they have emerged from the abyss. Manager Michael O’Neill has said: “This club, it stayed alive because of the people’s love for the club. They refused to let the club die.” It has been a rollercoaster ride for the Hoops – from relegation to the First Division, to Premier Division runners-up and to now European football.

Juventus have warmed up for tonight’s tie with a 2-1 friendly victory over French side Lyon and have been seeking advice from their former manager and current Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni ahead of the game and he has urged the Old Lady to be wary. “People have been asking me and Marco [Tardelli] who is Shamrock Rovers, because they are not sure about them. I said to be careful,’ said the Italian. ‘There is a doubt. They are a little wary, but they have respect for this team. I’m not sure that Juventus can win, because Shamrock Rovers are a good team.”

On paper, the 15-time champions of Ireland should stand a very slim chance of progressing against a team with European experience and calibre of Juventus but the 71 year-old also went on to say the Hoops should not be written off: “Juventus have better players but Shamrock Rovers are organised and will be well motivated as they are in the middle of their season,” said Trap. “That will count for a lot in the game and I am sure Juventus will not underestimate them.”

The majority of the Rovers side is made up of players who have spent their careers in the League of Ireland or couldn’t quite cut it in the middle ranks of the English and Scottish game – Craig Sives and last season’s top-goalscorer Gary Twigg have proved to be quality players since joining. However, we all know that there is a total gulf in class between them and likes of Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet and Amauri.

The last couple of days have proved to be very profitable for the Irish side and due to demand with just seven games remaining in the domestic season, Rovers put more season tickets up for sale which will cover the tie with Juventus at a cost of €100 – meaning that the club have made a tidy profit of €50,000 with 500 being tickets sold. The real money also comes from TV rights; Italian TV Company Mediasat has opted for exclusivity buying them for €200,000 which could be raised to €300,000 /€400,000 depending on subsequent deals and media coverage.

Ryle Nugent, Group Head of Sport, RTÉ, who will also be broadcasting the game said, “As the national broadcaster RTÉ is proud to be showing this historic match so that football fans around the world will get to enjoy Shamrock Rovers in action against one of the biggest football clubs in Europe. “We are delighted to continue our commitment to Irish soccer with our live coverage of this European tie.”

All eyes will be upon the Tallaght Stadium this evening, to see if the underdogs can cause an upset and if they do, then it should set those Irish eyes smiling while also carving it into the annals of Irish footballing history and if it doesn’t come to pass, they’ll still be smiling – no matter what happens, you won’t want to miss this game for the world.

Ian writes for Touchline Views, his very own blog on a wide variety of topics related to football, and he also writes for us occasionally here at Back Page Football.

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