Posts Tagged ‘Alessandro Del Piero’

Does it Spark Joy?

IMG_8820The official League of Ireland sponsor will be glad to know I switched energy providers recently. The nice salesman from SSE Airtricity knocked on my door last month, just after I got back from playing some five-a-side. Always keen for saving a few bob, I invited him in so we could go through the process of transferring to SSE.


A few minutes later as I was filling in some of the forms, he remarked “So I take it you’re a Shamrock Rovers fan then?” Now please don’t picture my front room as a shrine to all things Super Hoops but a casual look around my home will give anyone several clues to my club allegiance.


Version 2The bookshelves have a comprehensive Shamrock Rovers section. There are a couple of picture frames on the wall containing Rovers match reports. Amongst the footballs on the high shelf to the right of the fireplace is a ball with the Rovers crest on it – although there is also one with BFC on it but more about that later.


If that didn’t give it away to the SSE salesman, I was wearing a Shamrock Rovers jersey! His question. said with a smile, gave me pause to think about all the many Rovers souvenirs that not quite clutter my home but maybe it is not far off!


In amongst my podcast listening this week, between Second Captains, An Irishman Abroad and the Sportscast, I found myself listening to Roisin Ingle of the Irish Times inviting Marie Kondo into her house to help her declutter her home. Kondo is the author of ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’. Her method in determining whether to hold onto objects or not is to ask the question “Does it spark joy in you?” In answer to my Shamrock Rovers memorabilia the answer is definitely “yes”.



The first of the two match reports on the wall in my living room is a framed copy of La Gazzetta dello Sport from 6 August 2010. Wandering through Modena train station that day, I stopped in my tracks when I saw the famous pink front cover of Italy’s main sports daily newspaper. There staring back at me wearing a Shamrock Rovers jersey was Alessandro Del Piero! I couldn’t get the €1 coin out of my pocket quick enough to buy the newspaper!




Alongside the picture of Del Piero wearing the jersey he swapped with Gary Twigg, the match report from that Europa League qualifier also has a picture of Del Piero’s stunning winner on the night. His free kick from all of 40 yards was the best I’ve ever seen at a game. My slightly water damaged match ticket sits inside the frame too. I don’t usually get much joy from a 1-0 defeat but the monsoon in Modena was some memorable match.


The second frame on my wall also contains a Rovers European match report. This one is from 2011 and covers Rovers’ first away trip of our incredible European campaign that led all the way to the Europa League group stages. The Irish Times match report from the Flora Tallinn v Rovers game in the frame was published that day accompanied by a photo of the joyful Shamrock Rovers fans at the game with many familiar faces on view. Amongst them is former Rovers player John Coady watching his club in Europe and dotted around the shot are plenty of people who are friends. The match report also has my by-line as it was the first report I ever wrote for any newspaper!


Amongst my programme collection stored on my bookshelves, adjacent to at least ten Shamrock Rovers books is an historic programme, one which also has a personal resonance. My aunt’s husband was a youth team player with Rovers in the 1950s and amongst his souvenirs was a programme from Rovers’ home game against Manchester United in the European Cup in 1957. That match was played just a few months before the tragic loss in Munich of so many of ‘Busby’s Babes’. When my Uncle died a few years ago, my Aunt gave me the programme and it is one that I keep safely.


Part of the football collection in my front room is that one with BFC written in marker across it. Let’s keep the story as to how this ball came into my possession between us Hoops Scene readers, right? Don’t go telling anyone over in Dalymount Park!


Match BallPlaying in the First Division in 2006 meant the Hoops didn’t face Bohemians in league action that season. They did of course memorably knock Bohs out of the FAI Cup that year as discussed with Barry Murphy in the last issue of Hoops Scene.
Rovers returned to top flight action the following season having won the First Division and in September 2007 travelled to face a Bohemians side in league action at Dalymount Park looking for the first Rovers win at the venue in two years.


An early goal by Dan O’Connor and a strike from Tadhg Purcell handed the Hoops a 2-0 advantage. Barry Murphy kept his clean sheet and as the match went towards 90 minutes Rovers looked to run the clock down. I played my part by hanging onto the match ball when it came into the crowd on the Connacht Street side of the ground! The final whistle sparked joyful scenes amongst the travelling support. The BFC branded ball was brought home wrapped in my Rovers flag as a cheeky souvenir!


Not in my front room but elsewhere in my house is a whole rack of Rovers jerseys. Home, away and third kits all hang in my back room along with one framed jersey on the wall. This is a jersey given to me by a friend from a charity match in Balally Park between the Rovers 1997 squad and the Four in a Row team and is signed by the players.


Through jersey auctions and player sponsorships, I have a few players jersey; Some famous (Gary Twigg 2011 number 9 away jersey), some noteworthy (David Vickery) and some international player jerseys. I’ve former Ireland international Graham Barrett’s jersey from his short stint at the club and Cameroonian international Joey Ndo’s number 10 Rovers home jersey from the 2008 season.


The latest jersey international player jersey I have and the one I was wearing when the man from SSE Airtricity called is from last season. It is the purple kit with number 18 on the back worn by Keith Fahey last year. I took up his sponsorship just a few weeks before Fahey unfortunately had to call time on his career. In jest I mentioned to Rovers’ marketing director was I going to get a refund? Quick as a flash he responded that the jersey was worth more now Fahey had retired!


When I got the jersey I tweeted out a photo of it saying “I’m looking forward to wearing this one at Astro next week. I’ll be picking out pin point passes like @Keith_Fahey.” The Ireland international himself replied with an answer that certainly gave me joy “Good man!! Somebody has to keep it going [thumbs up emoji – football emoji]”















Published in Hoops Scene 2016 Issue 4: Shamrock Rovers v Athlone Town (April 19)

League of Ireland opening weekend – the view from Italy

By the time February and March comes around for League of Ireland fans, we are rested and ready for the action of the new season, welcoming the return of football with relish. There is that sense of expectation, excitement and promise about the new season.

So on the first weekend of the season I was looking forward to watching Shamrock Rovers in their season opener against Drogheda. But instead of being in Hunky Dorys Park, I was in Milan following the game on Twitter and through match updates. Maybe I’m not getting much sympathy here though!

The previous Monday my boss had dropped by my desk and asked a leading question or two. “Do you like Italian food?” Yes, I replied, wondering where this was going. “Do you like Italian food in Italy?” I had a good idea where this was leading to and it wasn’t up the M1 to Drogheda on Friday but a trip to the airport and beyond.

So the end of week was spent working out of our company’s Milan office and having to follow the Drogheda v Rovers game online when my day’s work was done. I had naturally looked up the football fixture list to see if there was some live football I could see in Milan. However, with Milan away and Inter home but late on Sunday night, I took a trip to Turin on Saturday.

In the afternoon I took the number 15 tram towards Superga, the hill that rises above Turin to the north east. On a clear day you can see right across Turin but not today. Whilst it is unseasonably warm for early March at 18 degrees, there is also a haze that prevents me from seeing even the cathedral in the city centre that hosts the famous Shroud of Turin.

It isn’t just the view I’ve come up to try and see or the Basilica of Superga completed in 1731 but it is to pay homage to the death of il Grande Torino team. In 1949, this team was lost to the mountain when the plane carrying the team crashed into Superga when it was shrouded in low cloud. All 31 people on board were killed. Torino were reining Italian champions, having won four league titles in a row. Incredibly 10 Torino players started for the Italian national team in a game against Hungary the previous season.

Behind the Basilica, there is a simple monument to the team with the names of the Campioni d’Italia listed. Beside it is a photo of the team in their famous maroon jerseys and fans have placed on the monument a few mementoes. Sadly Torino as a club never seemed to recover from the loss of this famous team and since this tragedy have one only one further Serie A title.

It is hard not to think of similar sporting air crash tragedies like the infamous 1958 Munich air disaster or the loss in 1993 of the Zambian football team (the team talked about much recently following Zambia’s capture of the 2012 African Cup of Nations). It is so hard to fathom the loss of a complete team from incidents such as these.

That evening I head out to see Juventus, a team that at times has dominated Italian football as Torino did in the 1940s. They are playing in their new stadium completed last season on the site of their old 67,000 capacity stadium. First impressions are that it is small but that is no real surprise as it is only a 41,000 capacity arena and it is not quite full on the night. The aim of the new arena for Juve was to get a compact stadium unlike the unloved old Delli Alpi stadium. Gone is the running track and stands stepped back from the pitch. Instead there is a tight stadium with tiers close to the pitch rising steeply up from close to the sidelines.

Purchased online, €30 has got me a ticket in the second tier in the Curva Nord. The roof above has four elegant curved toblerone steel roof trusses around the perimeter. Four column ties mean that it is not quite an uninstructed view for some in the ground but there are great sight lines from where I am in the top tier. Pictures of Juventus legends adorn the stadium exterior and interior including one of current Ireland manager and former Juve coach Giovanni Trapattoni.

Juventus, who are unbeaten in the league this season, are looking get a win to keep pace with Milan who won 4-0 earlier in the day. The small pocket of Chievo fans down below me to my right make themselves heard. They give it the “Juve Juve vafanculo” chant that seemed to offend the Juve fans when the Shamrock Rovers fans sung it at them when the clubs played in Europe in 2010!

The home side open the scoring after 17 minutes. Andrea Pirlo floats a free-in evading everyone but the post. The luck is with the bianconeri though as the ball bounces out to the unmarked Paulo De Ceglie who heads home unmarked. Chievo don’t really trouble Gianluigi Buffon’s goal in the second half. They force a couple of set pieces but it looks like they can’t break down the Juve defence marshalled by Giorgio Chiellini. Or so it seems until the team from Verona score on the break with fifteen minutes remaining. The ball comes to Boukary Drame outside the box and the Senegalese player’s shot is deflected into the net off a Juve defender for the equaliser.

To find the winner, manager Antonio Conte brings on Alessandro Del Piero, a player it seems who isn’t far off the age of that famous shroud housed in the Duomo. Juventus press forward during the five minutes of injury time and Pirlo gets a right foot shot away from 25 yards. The Chievo ‘keeper Sorrentino, who has got plenty of verbal abuse all night, dives full length to palm away Pirlo’s powerful shot. It is another draw for Juve, their 12th in 25 league games.

The home crowd voice their disapproval with a chorus of boos at the end. The Chievo players run to their supporters at the north-east end of the ground to celebrate. Jerseys are thrown into the away crowd as the crowd empties in the home end. I don’t understand Italian but I can comprehend the tone of the conversations on the tram back into Turin city centre. Two points dropped was the message I picked up anyway. Time to head home for me; some domestic football awaits back in Ireland!

Keep on hoping and keep on hooping

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Article for Hoops Scene (Shamrock Rovers v St Pats, Oct 2010, FAI Cup Final Semi-final)

With a long and successful history Shamrock Rovers are well used to winning trophies. However, in the recent past, the stories of winning trophies on the pitch have been replaced with tales of off field drama. That drama has unfolded across many acts beginning with the sad loss of Milltown. There was a sort of homecoming when the club eventually returned south of the Liffey when the Hoops picked up their last league during their time at the RDS. The saga of Tallaght Stadium came next with Rovers wandering from ground to ground and the story even descended into farce with the Hoops ending up playing a home game in Cork. The tale continued with Rovers’ near death during Examinership before the resurrection as a fans owned club which was followed by relegation for the first time in the club’s history. Thrown into the mix is the court room drama that occurred when the GAA attempted to prevent Rovers getting into Tallaght Stadium. Everybody loves a happy ending and that probably occurred when the Hoops finally got to play here in Tallaght last season. A fitting epilogue though would be to capture some silverware this year and so today’s cup semi final is an important part of this tale.

With all this in mind it is almost strange to have the main drama surrounding the club this season being matters on the pitch rather than off it. The drama this season went on tour with the Hoops taking their production to Europe during the summer. The drama of the last month or so however, is probably something that the club could have done without. This is no Film Noir but it isn’t far off as the team has gone from having the Airtricity League destiny in their hands to hoping bitter rivals Bohemians will drop points in the last two league games. This afternoon Shamrock Rovers play Saint Patrick’s Athletic in the FAI Ford Cup semi final with the prize of a trip to the Aviva Stadium on Lansdowne Road for next month’s final on offer.
Shamrock Rovers’ Europa League campaign was certainly dramatic and concluded with a cast of world class stars. The campaign started with Bnei Yehuda’s visit to Tallaght Stadium. Having trailed at half time in the first leg, it took a late cameo from Robert Bayly to “break the heart of the Israeli’s” (as the song goes) with his injury time equaliser. The result of the second leg was made even more important as the draw for the following round meant the winners would get a dream tie against Juventus. The best venue to watch that crucial tie was in the stadium in Israel but the next best was certainly the Maldron Hotel. The venue across the road from the Rovers stadium became the Mecca for fans who couldn’t make the trip to the holy land. When Thomas Stewart’s winning goal went in, there was mayhem in the stadium in Tel Aviv and in the hotel in Tallaght. Some Rovers fans in both Israel and in Ireland were wiping away tears of joy if not disbelief at the final whistle. There was an air of slight incredulity about the result as it sunk in that the most successful club in the history of Italian football would be playing the Hoops across the road in the stadium in just one week’s time.

The tie against Juventus is one that will live long in the memory. In the first leg in Tallaght, Juventus scored in just the third minute but Michael O’Neill’s men did not panic and stuck to their game plan but did eventually concede a second goal. In the second leg, it was a case of “We came, we saw, we didn’t conquer” but Rovers certainly gave a good account of themselves on the sodden pitch and rain soaked away section against Juventus. As the fans began to gravitate towards the stadium on match day, the heavens opened and Shamrock Rumours was in full effect with talk of a delayed kicked off or even a postponement of the game. There was no way the pitch was playable for the first 20 minutes of the game as the ball constantly got stuck in the pools of water on the pitch under the biblical deluge from the above. However, the Greek referee ignored the rain, which was like something from a disaster movie, and the players just got on with splashing around in the puddles. There was certainly no appetite for abandonment from the 900 or so Rovers fans that had made the journey. In years to come the number claiming to have been there that night will rival 10,000 no doubt.

Thunder rang out and lightning lit up the Modena sky above the 17,500 fans that were in the Stadio Braglia stadium. The curva ospitti was decked out with virtually every Rovers flag and despite the rain, the Rovers fans were in fine voice. Everyone in the uncovered away section was soaked to the bone by the time the rain eased towards half time with the score still 0-0. The half time singsong in the dry below the away stand had to be seen and heard to be believed. It was a disputed free kick and an Italian football legend that ultimately were the difference on the night. Substitute Alessandro Del Piero struck a free kick from all of 35 yards allowing Juventus to progress 3-0 on aggregate. As the players applauded the Rovers fans still standing in the rain they were met with the song “Don’t want to go home, don’t want to go home, this is the best trip I’ve ever been on” or was it “this is the wettest trip I’ve ever been on”!

Shamrock Rovers got back to entertaining domestic auditions following the sojourn in Europe and Tallaght was treated to some fine displays from the Hoops as autumn arrived. Eight wins and a draw from the nine games in series 3 of the league were well earned. Against Bohemians, the Hoops put in a fine performance. After going 1-0 up, Rovers had to battle with 10 men in the second half but still managed to score another two goals. This consigned Bohs to four defeats in their four attempts at beating Rovers in Tallaght. Many thought the league title was all but assured after coming from a goal down to beat today’s opponents St. Pats 3-1 in Inchicore in September. However, that was Rovers’ last away win as the team have subsequently lost three consecutive away games in matches against Dundalk, UCD and Bohemians.

Last Saturday’s game was heartbreaking for Rovers. The home side dominated the game against Sporting Fingal leading 1-0 with just three minutes to go. A string of chances were missed including a penalty when many fans queried why Clarke in the Fingal goal had not been shown a red card for preventing a clear goal scoring opportunity. The call had gone out to Rovers fans to get into the stadium early and generate maximum noise to spur on the team as part of the flag and scarf day. The atmosphere was amazing, especially for an afternoon game, with fans leaving with sore hands from clapping and sore throats from singing. However, they also left with heavy hearts as Sporting Fingal somehow managed to rob the game by scoring in the 87th and 88th minute. The final whistle was met with silence as the stunned Shamrock Rovers players and fans could not quite believe what they had seen with a win turned into a defeat at the death. The tears of joy from the win in Israel were a distant memory. There have only been a couple of occasions when this writer has slumped into his seat head in hands close to tears and Saturday was one. The previous occasion was the night in 2005 when Rovers were relegated. That night the mighty Shamrock Rovers had been relegated for the first time undone by mismanagement off the field by the old regime and mismanagement on the field by the manager who had been sacked towards the end of that season. That relegation actually resulted in a stronger club as the members consolidated the club’s finances following Examinership and replacement of the old board. Maybe the similar depression that was evident following last weekend’s defeat may spark something else positive as at least Rovers have today’s semi final and remaining league games to turn the season around.

While the league may be out of Rovers’ hands with the Hoops now relying on results elsewhere, the same cannot be said about the FAI Cup. St. Pat’s, who last won the cup in 1961, are the visitors today in front of RTÉ’s live TV cameras. While Pats did win here in Tallaght earlier on in the season, in the three subsequent encounters Rovers have emerged victorious. Michael O’Neill will be instilling as much confidence as he can muster in his team as they face into the last few matches of the season. His team must believe that they can come back from the recent disappointments and the fans must continue with the vocal support that was in evidence last weekend. Can Rovers claim one, if not two pieces of silverware, this season? Why not believe that this can happen? If you had said last year that Rovers would end up playing Juventus, only losing the away leg to a 35 yard Del Piero free kick, nobody would have believed you. Is there to be a final twist in this dramatic 2010 season? Let us keep on hoping and keep on hooping.

The Price of Success

August 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Interview with Aidan Price from Hoops Scene v Bray Wanderers 20 August 2010

Shamrock Rovers gained their sixth league win in the last seven games with their 2-0 win over Drogheda United last Friday night. It was also the fourth clean sheet in the last five games which is very satisfying from a defensive point of view. Aidan Price has been instrumental in those fine defensive performances this season and Hoops Scene chatted to the defender after last Friday’s win. It was a win which saw Rovers go three points clear at the top of the table as both St. Patrick’s Athletic and Bohemians tasted defeat that same night.

“It was good to get the result,” said Price. “What made it better was we would have been disappointed if we had dropped points against Drogheda looking at the other results after the game. It just goes to show that one weekend of football can change it so much. But of course we just have to look after ourselves and there are still a lot of games to go. The clean sheet was nice. We had some good chances in the first half but we just didn’t take them. We had to be patient during the game. We were much better in the second half when we upped the tempo. We took them on and we threatened them a bit more. Drogheda sat back and invited us to play. We tried to do the right thing and keep believing. We knew if we created enough chances and in the right areas, we would get goals so we kept going. We took our chances and kept a clean sheet. We have scored some really good goals recently through the team. That is important and I think we showed that again the other night.”

As the season builds up to its climax, it means lots of games for Shamrock Rovers and by the end of August the Hoops will have played five Airtricity League games, a Europa League qualifier, an EA Sports semi final, an FAI Ford Cup fourth round match and a couple of reserve team matches against Manchester United and Arsenal. The games in August to date have certainly been memorable and in the league there was the satisfaction of the 3-0 win in the Dublin Derby over League Champions Bohemians. It was the biggest win over rivals Bohemians that Price has been involved with in his five years with the Hoops. “It was good. We started the game really well and pressed them high up the pitch. We got a goal and that settled us down. We know we are comfortable when teams have the ball against us as we can keep a good shape. We have pace in the team that we can counter attack with and that is what we did really well that day. When we went down to 10 men we knew we were capable of keeping our shape. If that is what is needed to be done for 15 or 20 minutes, we know we are not out of our depth. We are more than capable and can frustrate the opposition team. That is what we did, we frustrated Bohs in the second half when they were committing more people forward trying to get the equaliser. (Bobby Best) We picked them off and took chances at important times and this set us up for the last 10 minutes when we got the third goal.” (George Kelly)

The game against Bohemians came a couple of days after the memorable away match with Juventus in Italy. Price agrees that the European games against Ben Yehuda and Juventus were a help to Rovers as during those games the opposition had plenty of possession and Rovers needed to keep their shape and remain disciplined. He went on to state that despite the travel arrangements, Rovers were always going to be up for a game against Bohemians. “I think those European games set us up well for the Bohs game. I think a lot of people didn’t expect we would win as they thought we had done so much travelling. I didn’t collect my car from the stadium until a quarter to six on the Friday morning. You are playing Bohs at the end of the day and it goes out the window how you feel. You know you are going to have a tough game and you know you need to be on top of your game. Fortunately at the moment we are playing well, playing with confidence and have belief in ourselves.”

While Rovers exited Europe against Juventus, they gained a lot of confidence in their 3-0 aggregate defeat. It was a respectable result against one of the biggest clubs in world football and Rovers received due respect from Juventus. In the away leg, it took a moment of genius from Italian football legend Alessandro Del Piero to separate the teams in monsoon conditions in Modena. “When we got to the ground before the game it was fine. But when we were in the dressing room, you could hear the absolute torrential rain coming down. At the start of the game I remember Ricer [Stephen Rice] sliding into a puddle in the corner and he came out swimming! I was thinking the referee might stop it then but in the second half it was much better. They worked at half time to get the heavy rain off the pitch. I think the rain probably helped us a little bit as well. It allowed us play a little bit tighter to them. We started the game really well over there. We got some crosses into the box. We got some corners and we got into the game. We had the freedom to go and play as we had nothing to lose being 2-0 down. We just went out to play the game. It took an unbelievable goal by Del Piero to decide the game. I didn’t think it was that far out until I saw it again. The lads on the bench were saying it was in line with the dugout! After all the hard work we had done it would have been nice to get a goal and win the game over there. It would have been an unbelievable feeling. That’s the way it goes. The Juventus players were brilliant and were absolute gentlemen after the game. That is the way it should be. Their club will be remembered for that. It would be nice all right if they got to the Europa League final in Dublin.”

Tonight it is Bray Wanderers who visit Tallaght Stadium. It is a Bray side, back under the management of Pat Devlin, who helped Rovers last week when they defeated St. Pats knocking them off the top of the league. Last year, Bray won their first ever visit to Tallaght. Just as there was no complacency by Rovers when visiting second from bottom Drogheda last week, Price knows the Hoops will mean business tonight against bottom side Bray. “You can’t just turn up for the big games, people get up for them games easily. You need to be up for all the games, the games against Bray or like Drogheda away where people may have felt we would slip up there. Last week’s win by Bray shows they are capable of results. It is one more game we need to win and it is a game we have to win. If you are not on top of your game and keep to your standards, you can struggle. Everybody wants to beat us and people up their game when they come to play us. We have to make sure that we start games properly and if we don’t score early we stay patient and stay with what we believe in. We feel we will get goals.”

Manager Michael O’Neill has used his strong squad throughout the season, resting players at times and insisting players give their best in every appearance in the green and white hooped jersey. “That is what the manager has told us. I got back into the team down in Sligo. I want to stay in the team, I don’t want to be left out of the team. I want to make sure I’m the best I can be and play as well as I can to make sure I stay in the team. I want to play every game I can and help the team do as well as we can.” O’Neill will use the opportunity of this week’s matches against the reserves of Manchester United and Arsenal to ensure certain members of his first team squad get some game time. Last Sunday against Manchester United, alongside players from Andy Myler’s A squad, O’Neill handed starts to new singings Patrick Jennings and Neil Fenn plus a guest appearance to Northern Ireland international Keith Gillespie. This Sunday it will be the chance for the reserve players at Arsenal to play against Rovers in Tallaght. “The team will be some of the lads who haven’t had a lot of football of late,” remarked Price adding, “we have so many games coming up everyone needs to be as fit as possible so if they come back into the team they are ready to go.”
28 year old Price is the longest serving member of the current Shamrock Rovers playing squad and he captained the side in 2006 when the Hoops won the First Division title.

He has been on the journey which saw Rovers come from the First Division to finish runners up last year earning the right to play in Europe against Juventus and it leaves him hungry for more. “Absolutely. That is why the games against Drogheda and Bray are so important. You want to get into Europe to experience stuff like that but you have to win those games to get there. We have an awful lot of football to be played before the end of the season. We don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves. We are concentrating on winning the next game and that is the main focus. As soon as you start getting ahead of yourself, football comes back at you and can bring you back down to the ground. Every game is vital for us to achieve what we want to achieve.”

Price remembers the games in the First Division away to Cobh Ramblers, Monaghan United and Kilkenny City (where he started his career) and home to teams like UCD in front of crowds of 500. He remembers the battle to get out of the First Division at the first attempt and now he is part of a team playing in front of the largest crowds in the League. He has got the experience of playing Juve and challenging for the league two years in a row. “It is hard to believe. Winning the First Division was brilliant and I’m grateful that I experienced that as well. But the club wanted to get back to where we are now. It wants to be challenging for leagues, wants to be challenging for everything. It makes you appreciate the small things a lot more. You don’t forget that or forget how hard people worked to make it happen. People within the club and the players who have been and gone and the players that are here now working hard to make sure we are as good as we can be. We want to achieve as much as we can. Small steps are being made consistently along the way. Things are being done the right way. The manager coming in has been brilliant in terms of his winning mentality. He wants us to win, he wants us to win a trophy. That is what we need. That is what we want to be doing at the end of the season. We want to be doing that in October and November and we want to be winning stuff. That is the way it should be at Rovers. This is how big the club is, the biggest in the country with the biggest support. We need to be winning trophies and that is what we aim to do. We want to sustain this challenge and show the drive and determination to stay at the top. It is important for us to get that first trophy as a group. Hopefully we can do that this year.”

We’ll never dry, we’ll keep the green flag flying high

“Don’t want to go home, don’t want to go home, this is the wettest trip, I’ve ever been on!”

We came, we saw, we didn’t conquer but we certainly gave a good account of ourselves on the sodden pitch and rain soaked away section against Juventus. Facci sognare the Ultras banner said at the Rovers home game against Juve and dream we did with Rovers getting the opportunity to take on the bianconeri in the Europa League.

It was the clichéd planes, trains and automobiles to Modena for the game which was switched from Torino due to Bono and the boys. The club had a charter for the squad, management team, admin staff and fans which came out the day before the game. Who but Rovers could fill another charter with an Airbus 380 used for the day trip (also referred to as Con Air or Snakes on a plane!). Fans flew to Milano, Bologna, Pisa & Roma to get to game, hiring cars (which SRFCTV did) or buses (which the Tallaght Hoops Supporters Club did) or just grabbed a trenitalia ticket.

There were a good few Hoops on the yellow pack flight that I was on to Bologna on Wednesday. These were the Hoops who had been quick to book on the Internet following the Rovers away win in Tel Aviv in the previous round. Modena was a short bus ride away. We checked out the medieval town centre including the 12th century cathedral which is a UNESCO world heritage site. After giving a ‘pal’ some quotes for his national newspaper article, we enjoyed a traditional pizza dinner.

All the Rovers fans staying in Modena gravitated towards Piazza Pomposa where the owner of one bar must have thought they had won the lotto with the numbers in their bar on a Wednesday night. It was a select crew including the management team, six of the board of directors, medical and physio team, club solicitor, our Garda liaison, club interpreter, his deputy(!), some St. Gallen fans (who had come down to support another team in green and white) a James Chambers look-a-like, members of the print media and RTE staff. However the local policeman didn’t care who anyone was when he came to shut the place up that night!

On Thursday morning a few of us travelled to Bologna which is a lovely city to visit in the rain as the old stone brick porticoes provide great protection from the rain. We climbed up the 486 steps of the Torre degli Asinelli which provides a great view of the city and location for Ultras stickers. On our return to Modena the Piazza Grande was now decorated with loads of Rovers flags and hundreds of Rovers fans were enjoying some al fresco refreshments in the bright afternoon sun. The policing was low key and friendly as they posed for photos and listened to the Rovers songs echo off the medieval walls.

As the fans began to gravitate towards the stadium the heavens opened and Shamrock Rumours was in full effect with discussion on the match being off, a delayed kicked off or postponement till Saturday. There was no way the pitch was playable for the first 20 minutes of the game. The Greek ref had other ideas and the players just got on with splashing around in the puddles. There was certainly no appetite for an abandonment from the 800 to 1000 Rovers (according to some match reports). In years to come the number claiming to have been there that night will rival 10,000 no doubt. Thunder rang out and lightning lit up the Modena sky above the 17,579 fans (paying €259,425 in gate receipts) who were in the Stadio Braglia stadium.

The curva ospitti was decked out with virtually every Rovers flag and despite the rain the Rovers fans were in fine voice. The rain probably leveled the playing field between the teams as the ball constantly got stuck in the pools of water across the pitch. Manager Michael O’Neill had made a few changes to the Rovers team which has been relatively settled in recent games. Murphy and Flynn came back in as full backs and Bradley joined the five man midfield.

Everyone in the uncovered away section were soaked to the bone by the time the rain eased after 30 mins or so and it looked like the game would now see out the 90 minutes (or more if Rovers could score a couple of goals). Rovers were solid in the first half and the 0-0 score at half time was probably a fair score. The half time singsong in the dry below the away stand had to be seen and heard to be believed.

In the second half Juve stepped it up. The Italian national team when they are worried about a tricky game move the game south. Juve had come south from Turin and then had to bring on Del Pierro to make the difference. Turner and the in form Stewert came on at half time. Juve generated a good few chances with Mannus and a last gasp Murray tackle preventing a goal.

It was a disputed free and a Italian football legend that ultimately were the difference on the night as substitute Del Piero struck a free kick in from all of 35 yards. The Juve Ultras at the far end unfurled a few banners in honour of Alex. The Rovers fans kept on singing with the “Juve, Juve, vafenculo” chant getting the ‘home’ fans a bit annoyed, I wonder why! The game petered out and so Juventus progressed 3-0 on aggregate. No shame in that scoreline unlike Bohs being eliminated by Welsh side TNS 4-1 on aggregate or the seven Bohs players involved in conceding seven goals in the friendly in Lansdowne Road against Manchester United (obviously that League XI could have done with some Rovers players but we had much bigger fish to fry).

With the day and club charters heading off straight after the game, the town centre was very quiet that night but the hotel bars did well by all accounts. On Friday morning we headed off on the train to Roma to see some of the sights and flight home but not before purchasing a few copies of the Gazetta della Sport which had extensive coverage of the previous nights match. It included a great photo of Del Piero wearing the Shamrock Rovers jersey he swapped at the end of the game. We had sung “you’ll never play for Rovers” but that photo allowed us to keep on dreaming about what Rovers can achieve in years to come. Out of Europe but the small matter of the derby on Sunday lunchtime to keep Rovers busy.

“Don’t want to go home, don’t want to go home, this is the best trip I’ve ever been on”