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Shamrock Rovers FC's Stephen Rice and Enda Stevens were upbeat about the education they received in the club's first UEFA Europa League group stage campaign despite Tottenham Hotspur FC winning 4-0 in Dublin on Thursday. Defender Stevens, who now leaves Rovers to join Aston Villa FC, believes the Hoops will continue to improve even without outgoing manager Michael O'Neill. Meanwhile, Tottenham midfielders Jake Livermore and Andros Townsend cited back-to-back Group A defeats by FC Rubin Kazan and PAOK FC as reason for their elimination.
Stephen Rice, Shamrock Rovers defender
We're disappointed with the performance but we have to get realistic given the quality of the opposition. Their movement was really hard to deal with at times. It's a learning curve but we have to be realistic about the difference in the standard of the players. [The first goal] knocked the steam out of us a little bit. We are a bit disappointed that we didn't react, then the goal before half-time was a killer. It was a disappointing way to finish but we have to learn and hopefully take that into Europe next year.
We've learnt how to go to intimidating atmospheres and play our own game and to keep concentration at high levels when you don't have the ball, which is crucial because you are going to be without the ball for long periods in European football. The better players you play against, the more you improve as an individual. I think everyone has improved and can come away from this campaign with their head held high and with higher reputations.
Enda Stevens, Shamrock Rovers defender
I thought in the first half we did well and created a few chances but then after the first goal we fell apart a bit and they picked us off. [The first goal] was a big blow because if you go 1-0 down against a team like that it's always tough to get back. We tried to keep the game at 0-0 for as long as we could but it was a sloppy goal and it killed us. In most of the away games we've played very well. We could have been a lot better at home but it's our first season and hopefully we'll learn from it and grow. We're playing against high quality week in, week out – we wouldn't play against anything like that in our league so it's great to get a taste and hopefully there will be more to come.
Our team are young but there are a lot of players who are quality and have proved it this season. It's been a learning curve and an experience and hopefully it's not the only one. Hopefully, they'll go on and do great things next season and it doesn't finish here. The last two years have been great. We've won two leagues and qualified for Europe so it's been brilliant for me. I can't thank Michael O'Neill enough for what he's done for me. He's improved me massively and hopefully he'll go on to bigger and better things. I've no doubt about it – he's a top manager and it's just a matter of time before a big club snaps him up.
Jake Livermore, Tottenham midfielder
At half-time we got wind of the other result and it looked like it would be our night. It's a shame in the end because it was a good performance but the overall outcome did not go in our favour [Rubin Kazan drew 1-1 at group winners PAOK to finish second]. We had to go out there and do the job with our fingers crossed for the other game. We're disappointed the other result did not go our way but that's the situation we left ourselves in.
Andros Townsend, Tottenham midfielder
On a personal level, I haven't really had many games this season so I was pleased to get the run-out and hopefully I put a performance in to show the manager what I can do. Any time you win 4-0 in the Europa League is a massive result. We did well. For the first 20 minutes we were slow but after we got the first goal we pushed on. We can't blame PAOK for not getting the result – the problem was the last two games where we lost against PAOK and Rubin. It's our own fault. It's been massive for us youngsters to get game time, not in reserve matches but in the Europa League against hostile crowds like PAOK and Rubin.
Jermain Defoe, Tottenham striker
I'll miss every game [in the UEFA Europa League]. I want to play in all the competitions so for me it doesn't matter what game it is, I look forward to playing. This was another competition and another trophy to go for. It's a good competition with some good teams and if you go all the way and win it then you'll be delighted.
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