On 25 September 1957, Shamrock Rovers FC made history in the Republic of Ireland as the first local side to compete in a European Champion Clubs' Cup match, losing 6-0 to Manchester United FC at Dublin's Dalymount Park. Ten days shy of 54 years since that famous first, the team can only hope that their maiden UEFA Europa League group stage game goes better.
FC Rubin Kazan's arrival at the Tallaght Stadium on Thursday will herald another historic day, with the Hoops becoming the first Irish club to feature in the group phase of a major UEFA competition, and manager Michael O'Neill believes they will relish the challenge. "It's a big night for the club and for Irish football to have this game here," said the 42-year-old.
"Rubin will be the best team we have faced so far," added the former Northern Irish international, who played in the UEFA Cup with Glentoran FC and Coleraine FC. "But it's great for us to get the chance to do it. We have to take the European thing seriously; if we don't, there's no point getting to where we've got.
People talk about the financial aspect to it but we, the players and the staff, want to continue to do ourselves justice in this competition."
Rovers earned their crack at Group A with an unlikely 3-2 aggregate success against Belgrade giants FK Partizan in the play-offs, and are pleased that their group stage matches can be staged at their own ground, rather than being switched to the 50,000-capacity Dublin Arena. "It's wonderful for us as a club, but also for the Tallaght area," said chairman Jonathan Roche, whose club were without a home from 1987 until the Tallaght Stadium opened in 2009.
It is a busy time for Rovers: this will be their 45th competitive game in a season in which they have scooped the all-Ireland Setanta Cup and have the national league and cup titles within reach. That pressure on his squad prompted O'Neill to venture into the transfer market, signing the experienced Rohan Ricketts and Jim Paterson just before the window closed.
"It would mean a lot to me to play," said midfielder Ricketts, who played in England's top two divisions with Tottenham Hotspur FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC, and came to Rovers following spells in Hungary, Moldova and Germany. "
Rubin won't be prepared for how intense it will be in Dublin. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain."
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