For Shamrock Rovers FC chairman Jonathan Roche, it is the "stuff of dreams" to look forward to a third qualifying round tie with Juventus just five years after nearly going bankrupt.
Article top media content
For supporters of Shamrock Rovers FC, a dream tie with Juventus in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa League is not simply a just reward for their 2-1 aggregate win over Israeli club Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC.
It is a sign of how far Rovers have come and a tribute to the supporters who rescued the Hoops, the most successful club side in the Republic of Ireland, from near extinction just five years ago. "This is the stuff of dreams," Rovers chairman Jonathan Roche told UEFA.com.
"Five years ago this club was almost dead and buried, we were demoted to the First Division and the club was very low. But here we are, playing Juventus in front of 6,000 fans in our home stadium in what might be the biggest game in the club's history. We have had big matches in Europe before, but Juventus at home in the Europa League is something else," added Roche.
Rovers played the Busby Babes of Manchester United FC in the 1957/58 UEFA European Champion Clubs' Cup just months before tragedy struck that club in Munich and also took on FC Bayern München in the 1967 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup. Now the club are looking forward to rubbing shoulders with the European football's élite once again. "We hosted Real Madrid CF in a friendly last year but by next week, Rovers will have played Real and Juventus, two of the biggest clubs in the world," Roche said. "It's amazing stuff."
Rovers are enjoying success at home as well as abroad, with Michael O'Neill's in the race for the Irish title too. That upturn in fortunes means all the more to Rovers fans given the club's recent history. The problems began when they were forced to leave their Milltown home stadium in 1987.
It was only in 2009 that the Hoops finally found a permanent home, in the newly built Tallaght stadium in Dublin. Financial woes hurt the club badly and Rovers almost went out of business in 2005, only for a supporters group to take over the running of the club following their demotion from the top flight. Control of Rovers still lies in the hands of the supporters.
"This means so much, given where we have come from," said Roche. "We have great support with this club; we had 120 fans in Tel Aviv and we will sell out the 6,000 tickets for the home game with Juve. It's a huge tribute to Michael O'Neill and his players."
Striker Tommy Stewart was the match-winning hero in Israel and he admitted his 70th-minute strike was the biggest goal of his career. "It's the best feeling I've had in my career; it is such a good feeling to be in the next round at all, but to play Juve in Dublin is the stuff you dream about as a kid," he said. "It's very exciting to think about playing against the likes of Del Piero, but these are the games you want to play in, and we will give it all we have against Juve."
Even though capacity at Tallaght is restricted to 6,000, Rovers have resisted the temptation to move the game to a bigger stadium like the newly built Dublin Arena. "We want to play in Tallaght, it's our home ground," Stewart said.
After a disappointing season last term, Juventus have appointed Luigi Delneri and the former UC Sampdoria coach will look to get off to a winning start in his first competitive match in charge. Delneri has opted for a 4-4-2 system with a winger on each flank, and striker Amauri is looking forward to improved service this season.
"We are on the right path," the 30-year-old Brazilian said after Juve's 2-1 win against Olympique Lyonnais in a recent friendly. "I look forward to proving we can bounce back from last season and we want to start with a victory against Shamrock. Our new coach has clear ideas, we know exactly what we have to do on the pitch."