Posts Tagged ‘Copenhagen’

Euro Vision and Reality

August 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Published in Hoops Scene 13 (Shamrock Rovers v UCD, 10 August 2011)

Ahead of the club’s entry into the Europa League, Macdara Ferris chats to some Hoops players about the recent Champions League campaign…

After the recent Champions League qualifying campaign, it is back to domestic action for Shamrock Rovers tonight as the Hoops take on UCD. Rovers know that if they want to replicate this season’s European football adventures in 2012, then they need to go about securing three points tonight against the Students in the Airtricity League. The Hoops currently sit joint top of the table on 48 points along with Sligo Rovers and Derry City but with a game in hand.

In the league there is a certain level of expectation that surrounds Rovers this season. Manager Michael O’Neill has brought in several new players to the squad that won the league last season and the talk in some quarters, but not at the club, was that this could be a side that might dominate the domestic league for a number of years. The last team to have a strangle hold on the League of Ireland was the Shamrock Rovers four in a row league winning side in the mid-1980s during the last days of Milltown. However that historic team failed to reproduce their domestic dominance in Europe being eliminated in the first round on each attempt. It was therefore nice for the current Rovers squad to make their own history last month when they became the first Rovers team to win a European Cup match following their 1-0 win at home to Flora Tallinn. They did so on the night that the club celebrated that four in a row team by hosting a reception for them in the stadium 25 years on from their game in Milltown against Glasgow Celtic.

This season’s European campaign in the Champions League qualifiers to date and Europa League playoff against Partizan Belgrade to come have been a nice distraction for Rovers away from the pressure of trying to retain their League of Ireland crown. A number of the Rovers fixtures have been re-arranged to suit the European schedule and tonight is Rovers’ first home game after the short mid-season summer break in the league. “It’s good to have a break and take your mind off it,” said Rovers full back Pat Sullivan. “You have so many Friday-Tuesday games in the league and sometimes that can get on top of you. Breaks like this, and getting one or two games moved, it’s quite nice and we have the summer break which is even better.”

Last season, Rovers were very effective in juggling their domestic and European commitments. The Hoops garnered 25 out of the 27 points on offer in the middle third of the season that coincided with Rovers defeating Israeli side Bnei Yehuda before playing Juventus. Sullivan, who was watching those games last season on the sideline due to a lengthy injury layoff, was quick to point out that “it was our best period coming off the back of Europe”.

European games afford the team a chance to go up against new players and new playing systems. “In league games you know the teams and what systems you’re going to play,” explains Sullivan. “When you’re playing higher level teams in Europe, you raise your game. The more we raise our game it makes the club and us look better. It improves the club’s reputation and our reputation and that’s what you want.”

With the 1-0 aggregate win over Flora Tallinn and the fine performances in the defeats to Copenhagen, the Hoops have shown they are well able to compete on the European stage. The club will be expecting more ‘Sold Out’ signs to be going up in Tallaght Stadium ahead of next week’s Europa League playoff first leg against the Serbian Champions Partizan. Rovers will be hoping for a similar atmosphere as to the one here in Tallaght against Copenhagen in front of the capacity 6,000 crowd. These games are the prize for what the club achieved last season in winning the league and they mean a lot to the team as Stephen Rice explained. “It’s great, it’s a reward for the achievement of last year,” said the central midfielder. “A lot of time in Europe, it’s been a reward for clubs and has just been a reward. But I think Irish clubs are now going into Europe looking to progress which is a positive thing.”

The good results from Irish teams in Europe in recent years do bring a certain level of expectation to progress through at least the opening round. If teams go out “it’s not a good sign,” said Pat Sullivan. With the European matches squeezed into a tight schedule the players go into the game knowing who they will face in the next round should they progress. “It doesn’t help knowing who you can potentially play,” said Sullivan. “That doesn’t do anyone any favours as it potentially puts pressure on you. If you don’t get through a round, you’re going to be disappointed.”

The holy grail for an Irish team of qualifying for the group stages of a European competition still has not been attained. Rovers had Copenhagen under real pressure in the second leg of their third qualifying round. How the tie would have developed if Chris Turner’s powerful header had bounced down over the line rather than up and out, we will never know. Is it a realistic ambition to get to the group stages of the Champions League? “I think it’s a fair stretch to get to the group stage,” said Pat Sullivan. “The way European competition has gone, there seems to be more rounds. You have three qualifying rounds in the Champions League and then a [play off] qualifier round. It never seems to end. We’re a part time team but train like a full time team. Training itself is done in a full time manner, we just train in the evening and some mornings. It won’t change the fact of will qualify for something or not. The fact there are more clubs in Europe that are allowed try and qualify in the first and second rounds makes it harder. I wouldn’t say never but it will take a lot to qualify [for the group stage]. But when a team does, I hope it’s something that could happen more regularly.” His team mate Stephen Rice has this view on where Irish teams stand. “We’re still progressing,” says Rice. “I think that has a lot to do with the summer league, playing against clubs that are only coming back from pre-season and us being mid-season helps.”

Rovers’ elimination from the Champions League qualification process has resulted in the club being parachuted into the Europa League play off round with the prize of entry into the group stages if they can overcome Partizan. The Rovers manager Michael O’Neill is well aware of what his team have to deal with in terms of the number of European games that are taking place alongside domestic action like tonight’s game against UCD. However, O’Neill feels the minimum six European fixtures that Rovers will face this season can also aid his side domestically. “Our intention at the start of the league was to retain the title and that is still the case,” said O’Neill. “The European thing is something that can be positive. You have to deal with fatigue and more games but you get a togetherness with your squad that is difficult to get on a weekly basis. We will gain in terms of player unity and their relationships and we will be stronger as a result.”

Player photography by George Kelly

Conor McCormack Interview

August 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Published in Hoops Scene Issue 12 (Shamrock Rovers v FC Copenhagen – 2 August 2011)

Last week’s Champions League game for Shamrock Rovers took place in the Parken Stadium north of a certain Danish brewing company who also sponsor FC Copenhagen. The Danish champions were probably playing the best side in League of Ireland football. While Rovers don’t do away wins in the European Cup losing 1-0, they did put in a fine performance on a night that certainly did call for every Hoop fan to be proud of their team.

Rovers player Conor McCormack can be also proud of his own performance as the 21 year old looked like a Champions League veteran in both last week’s game and in the previous away match against Flora Tallinn. Rovers manager Michael O’Neill gave McCormack a crucial role in front of the back four which provided a solid defensive base. McCormack was a second half substitute in the home leg against Flora Tallinn and has cemented a starting line up since then. “It was a great atmosphere,” said McCormack of the 1-0 win in Tallaght against Flora. “No one really knew what to expect with it being our first time in the Champions League.”

In Europe, avoiding conceding a crucial away goal is a high priority for the home team and against Flora the Hoops were very close to conceding that away goal after giving away a penalty in the first half. However Alan Mannus got down to make a vital penalty save. “They were lucky enough I think to get the break and get the penalty,” said McCormack, “but thankfully Big Al saved it. Justice was done as we went straight upfield to score and rightly so.” Mannus has subsequently moved on from Rovers to SPL side St. Johnstone. “He is massive loss and he is a big character,” said McCormack of the goalkeeping situation. “Ryan Thompson is here now and I’m confident he can step up.”

Tonight Copenhagen will be looking for an away goal to effectively end the tie. However, Flora when they came to Tallaght played a similar game to many of the domestic visitors to the Dublin 24 venue this season. They sat back and soaked up the Rovers pressure hoping to run the clock down and hit the Hoops on the break. Rovers have had some good practice in trying to break down teams playing that style and have mixed the team formation playing 4-3-3 on a number of occasions including against the Estonian visitors. “Like most European teams when they come away from home, they want to keep it tight and play five across the middle,” said the Carlingford native. “Sometimes it is a wee bit hard to break down. We had the majority of the ball but we deserved to win as we were the better side. It is a great experience to play in the Champions League and a great thing to have under your belt. In the second leg in Tallinn, McCormack felt Rovers deserved to progress. “We did well. We knew it was going to be tough. It is a different climate and a different culture of football. We did our homework on them to get the 0-0 draw that brings us through.”

Of course, Conor McCormack has plenty of continental European football experience having joined Shamrock Rovers this season following a spell with Italian Serie B team, Triestina. His time in Italy came after beginning his career at another big European club, Manchester United. “I went on trial when I was just coming up on 15,” recalled McCormack of his time with United. “I was lucky enough that they signed me up. I was on a scholarship but I was told I wasn’t going to get a professional contract that year. I could have stayed on for another year but I wanted to get a professional contract and play football.” McCormack had the opportunity to stay at United and had offers from elsewhere in England and in Scotland. However, he felt he would look for opportunities elsewhere. “I thought it would be better to leave United and try to get a chance elsewhere. There was word about going to Italy and my agent wondered would I be interested? It came out of the blue. I went and took the trial. I said I would go over for a week and see how I liked it. They liked me so I signed a three year deal. There are not many Irish players playing in Europe and I thought that might suit me a wee bit better. ”

Ultimately it was a frustrating time in Italy for the former Ireland youth international as he got limited playing time. “There were only a handful of matches for the first team, some friendlies and the odd cup game,” said McCormack who was player of the year in 2008 for his Ireland u17 team. “In the two and half years I was over there, it was way below what I expected. There were different managers coming in with six different managers in my two and a half years there. I kept getting pushed back and I thought I should have got a chance myself. Different managers came in with different ideas and different players. Every two months there would be a change in the manager and directors so it kind of went pear shaped. I wasn’t happy and the wages weren’t coming. I decided I had to get out of there come January so I ended up cancelling my contract and coming back here. And luckily enough the gaffer [Michael O’Neill] got me here and signed me up so I was happy with that.”

It was that European experience that meant Michael O’Neill had no hesitation in bringing McCormack into the starting line in the Champions League. Speaking on the touchline after the game in Tallinn, O’Neill was quick to compliment his player. “I thought he was fantastic,” said his manager. “He was always in the right place at the right time to pick the game up for us. He’s very disciplined, probably more disciplined than any player we have. He had two and a half years in Italy learning the game and that system. It paid dividends because he looked comfortable.”

McCormack himself recongised that his own European experience was an important factor in O’Neill putting him in the starting line up. “He said that I could do a job and I think that I did and I’m happy with that. Coming over here, European football is a lot different than the Irish football or the English game. I might have had a wee bit more experience than the rest of the lads including the climate which I would have been used to in the two and a half years over there. He said he had faith in me and he wanted to put me in there.”

In Europe last season, the Hoops came up against Italian giants Juventus in the Europa League. “This time last year I was in a pizzeria watching them!” said McCormack about the Juve game. The players involved in that game will have their own opinion on Italian football but McCormack is well placed to compare the League of Ireland with Italian football having spent time playing in both countries. “It is a lot more tactical and technical over there,” explains the 21 year old. “The game itself is slower and you can get on the ball a lot more. There is not an awful lot of pressure on you. The speed of the game is a lot slower. Over here, in England and in Scotland, the football is a lot different, it is a lot quicker and more intense. The climate has a big part in the game as you are playing in 30 degrees of heat you can’t go flying around the pitch the whole time!”

With the Hoops battling to retain their title at the top of the league, with his first taste of Champions League football and a Setanta Sports Cup winners medal in his pocket, McCormack must be pretty pleased with how the season has progressed for him. “It is great. Looking back on last year, I was in and out of the team and not really getting a game over there. I’ve come here and the gaffer has had faith in me, he’s played me and I’ve come on leaps and bounds. I think I’ve improved as a player and I’m happy with the way things are going at the minute and that I’ve achieved a bit of success and hopefully there is more to come.”

While Serie A has some strong following amongst many Rovers fans, there is less interest in Serie B. So McCormack was certainly an unknown prospect for most Hoops fans. They were unsure of how much game time he would get but as soon as he got some early in the season, it was clear how much potential this 21 year old has. Was the player himself worried about getting in team and what position he would line up in? “Well I knew it was going to be tough with the quality that is in the team. The gaffer has brought in most of the best players from last season around the league into the team and put them together. I knew it would be a tricky task but I’ve got a few games under my belt and I just have to keep pushing forward and try to cement a place in the team. I will keep thinking positive and do better. I prefer to play my football probably as a defensive midfielder but I don’t mind where I play really. I will give 110% and try and do my best. I don’t mind really where I play, I just want to get playing and then I’m happy. I do enjoy playing in a sweeping role in midfield in front of the back four.”

Across all the competitions, McCormack has made over twenty appearances for the Hoops. He was handed his competitive debut for Rovers in the Setanta Sports Cup and he started in all the games in that competition including the win in the final over Dundalk. His performance in the first leg of the semi final away to Sligo Rovers is the game when it was clear to see that Michael O’Neill had acquired a real gem in McCormack. With the game live on Setanta TV, the Hoops lined out with an offensive 4-3-3 system and proceeded to play Sligo Rovers off the park. Central to the win on the night was McCormack who started in his preferred defensive midfield role. “It was my first real game in midfield,” recalled McCormack about the 2-0 win in the Showgrounds. “The gaffer told me before the match to watch out for Joey Ndo and to try and stop him. All the lads were telling me how he is a great player in the league as I wouldn’t really know much about him having not been here or seen many games. All the lads were saying how good and skillful he is and that he’ll try and nutmeg you but I just decided to put that to the back of my mind. I went about playing my own game, to stop the opposition, get on the ball and do a job for the team. I think I did that and stopped one of their best players and we went on to win the match. So that was a big point to the game and I’m delighted as we went on to win the competition.”

It was a similar performance that McCormack put in against Flora that helped the Hoops bring Copenhagen to Tallaght tonight. McCormack is under no illusion as to the difficult task the Hoops will face against a team that made the last 16 of the Champions League last season and hold a 1-0 lead after the first leg. “It is going to be a tough ask,” said McCormack about playing a team that emerged from the Champions League group stage in the same group as Barcelona. “They drew at Stamford Bridge last season. We will go out there and have nothing to lose. They are going to be a tough side. But we will go out and give everything. We will go out an enjoy it and take in the experience.”

Not quite a Danish fairy tale in the Champions League

Shamrock Rovers are rightly proud of our history. Alongside the many tales of domestic glory, the stories of playing the giants of European football like Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Glasgow Celtic, sustained many Rovers fans in the difficult years following the club’s exile from Milltown. Six years ago if you were a Rovers fan you were likely to be reading the court pages rather than the sports pages as the club’s existence hung by a thread during the period when the club was in Examinership. Five years ago the away trips were to St. Mel’s Park, St. Colman’s Park or a ground even a Saint wouldn’t want to go in, Hogan Park in Limerick. But in 2011 the away trips require a passport as we head to foreign lands humming the Champions League theme tune in our heads. Tallinn and Copenhagen have been the destinations so far and tomorrow we will find out where we head to as Rovers chase entry in the Europa League Group stages.

With Rovers claiming the required 0-0 draw in Tallinn in their second qualifying round second leg to go with the 1-0 home win, it was a quick turnaround with back to back away trips to get to Copenhagen for the next round the following week. The day trip to Denmark was booked out before I had even got back to Ireland the day after the game in Estonia so I booked on with the official club trip. This had around 60 seats available for supporters to travel on with the official Shamrock Rovers group made up of 40 players and officials. It was the equivalent of travelling on the team bus to an away game so it was a bit of a novel experience travelling on the same airplane as the team. The players were located at the front of the plane that didn’t have a first class section so Dan Murray, Craig Sives and Ciarán Kilduff had to squeeze their lengthy frames into the same size seats individuals like Gary McCabe and myself could readily fit in. All the players were in official Rovers gear with a few additions like Gary O’Neill’s non-Umbro branded headwear and Billy Dennehy’s massive footballer headphones for his iPod!

The Captain welcomed “Michael O’Neill and his Rovers team” on board over the PA having been well briefed by a Rovers fan who works on the ground crew in Dublin Airport. By early lunchtime, we were all in Copenhagen with the team heading to their hotel on the outskirts of the City and the rest of us making our own way into the city centre. This allowed us time for a stroll around the city to get a feel for the place. A good place to start was in the Town Hall tower that affords great views of Copenhagen even on an overcast Tuesday. Having been watching “The Killing” on DVD, I recognised this as the location where the office of candidate for Copenhagen Mayor Troels Hartmann works.

There wasn’t a huge amount of sight seeing time for me, as this was somewhat of a working trip for me. In the previous Champions League round, I had managed to get the gig reporting on the match for the Irish Times as weren’t sending anyone to cover the game. The opportunity arose through contacts I had made when volunteering at the Europa League final and my contributions to the Rovers programme. However it was mainly due to the fact I was travelling out there anyway and Emmet Malone was kind enough to ask me. It did mean giving up watching the game with my friends and fellow supporters in order to cover the match for the newspaper and it was a bit of a learning curve for me.

The Irish journalists were very accommodating to me in Tallinn and also in Copenhagen with the same crew travelling out for that game including Paul O’Hehir, Owen Cowzer, Daniel McDonnell, Philip Quinn and Paul Lennon who were joined on the Copenhagen trip by Emmet Malone. This time around I was covering the game for the Irish Examiner. On the back of the match report in Tallinn, I had carried out an interview over the phone for Danish TV3 who televised the match in Copenhagen. They used a few minutes of audio and lifted a photo of me for the piece off the Internet holding up a Rovers jersey at the 2009 Rovers Player of the Year award with Graham Barrett cut out of the photo. I certainly didn’t come across as the most objective of journalists referring to Rovers as “we” in both the piece they used or when asking a question of Michael O’Neill at the pre-match press conference in Copenhagen much to the amusement of the professional journalists there. Maybe Michael O’Neill was wondering who the person in the Hoops SC T-Shirt referring to his team as “we” was at the press conference! The Copenhagen press officer recognised me off the TV when I turned up at the conference much to my own amusement!

Roland Nilsson pre-match conference was carried out all in English. I’m sure Nilsson was trying not to be condescending but he was certain who was going to win the game the following evening. “We are favourites definitely.” The press got the opportunity to talk to the Copenhagen players pitch side but the only player the Irish journalists wanted to speak to was a certain Thomas Joseph Delaney. This Dane had obvious Irish connections but when asked they were from the 1800s rather than the 1980s so it wasn’t quite what they had hoped for. Ideally for my newspaper target audience I was hoping he had some Cork ancestry but it wasn’t to be!

With a 500 word piece filed, it was a quick bus ride back into the city centre. To give an idea of the cost in Copenhagen, the 15 minute bus ride cost nearly €4. There were some horror stories of burger, chips and a beer costing €27 but we availed of some reasonably priced drinks that evening watching Rangers lose at home to Malmo (which may ultimately mean Rovers may now play Rangers in Europe later this month).

Match day came around with it being a bright sunny day in Copenhagen and a chance to do some more sightseeing in the morning including the Little Mermaid and some of Copenhagen’s modern architecture before catching up with some of the Rovers fans that had arrived by lunchtime on the day trip. Out at the Parken Stadium ahead of kick off, lots of Rovers fans were perusing the merchandise in the Copenhagen club shop that is significantly bigger than our own impressive shop in Tallaght. Don’t know whether we’d be allowed sell a Rovers own brand beer but the Copenhagen Carlsberg beer is an interesting idea.

The Rovers fans, numbering somewhere over 200, were located behind the goal beside the dressing rooms and that allowed them to greet their team with great gusto when they emerged for the game. The attendance on the night would touch just over 11,000 including a sizeable Copenhagen Ultras section down the opposite end of the ground. The home fans must have thought the match would be a walkover when the scored within four minutes of the kick off but they maybe weren’t aware of the resilience of this Rovers team. Rovers created plenty of chances during the game and were unlucky not to score from chances that fell to Dennehy in the first half or Finn, Oman or Twigg in the second half. Admittedly they also rode their luck at the back but Ryan Thompson stood firm on a night he became the first Jamaican to play in the Champions League. The match ended 1-0 matching Michael O’Neill’s objective of keeping the tie alive for Tallaght.

Speaking to the press after the game, O’Neill was honest in his assessment of the game and it showed the measure of where this Rovers team is when he said that “there is a slight hint of disappointment to have lost the game to be honest.” Roland Nilsson came in to say a few words to the press but with deadlines looming was told actually he wasn’t needed for quotes. He was happy to head off with one member of the Irish press core joking after that it’s not often you tell a bronze medal World Cup winner to essentially f— off, we don’t want to talk to you! With match reports filed, it was time head to the airport with the buses carrying the players and supporters getting a police escort out of the city towards the airport for our 00:15 flight.

Ultimately, the fact that Rovers couldn’t get that crucial away goal in Copenhagen would handicap them in the return leg and so when the Danish team scored just before half time in Tallaght effectively ending the tie. Shamrock Rovers as a team and as a club can take lots of positives from the experience of the Champions League and hopefully that will all be helpful as we attempt to become the first Irish club to qualify for the group stages of a European competition. Watching the draw on on Friday lunchtime we will find out where Rovers will be taking us next.

O’Neill’s men park bus to keep dream alive (Irish Examiner)

Match report published in the Irish Examiner

FC Copenhagen 1 Shamrock Rovers 0

By Macdara Ferris, Parken Stadium
Thursday, July 28, 2011

SHAMROCK ROVERS came into last night’s Champions League qualifier knowing they were facing formidable opposition in Copenhagen, a team studded with full internationals and players with knockout stage experience of Europe’s biggest competition.
The League of Ireland champions emerged from the game with much credit, putting in a determined performance but they still face the difficult task of overcoming last night’s 1-0 defeat when Copenhagen visit Tallaght next Tuesday.

Rovers manager Michael O’Neill had made it clear that his objective for the first leg in the Parken Stadium was to contain the Danish champions and keep the tie alive. That is what his team managed to do with his team effectively deploying a 4-1-4-1 system to stifle the attacking threat of Copenhagen.

“I was delighted with the performance and I thought we were excellent throughout the game,” said O’Neill. “There is a slight hint of disappointment to have lost the game to be honest.”

Things did not go exactly to plan for O’Neill, with his side conceding a goal after only three minutes. Copenhagen won a corner which Rovers cleared but Pierre Bengtsson collected the ball and his cross was headed into the top right-hand corner by Solvi Ottesen.

Copenhagen went on to create a number of chances down the left in the first half. Pape Pate Diouf initially turned Craig Sives, cutting in on the left but his right-foot shot went over the bar.

Next, Bengtsson got clear down the left but Diouf wastefully hit the ball over the bar.

The Dubliners’ best chance of the half came when a Pat Sullivan cross was flicked on by captain Gary Twigg to Billy Dennehy but he couldn’t force the ball home under pressure in the six yard box in front of the 200 or so Rovers fans who had made the trip.

Ryan Thompson was certainly the busier goalkeeper as he came through a crowd of players to punch clear a cross from the Copenhagen player with the Irish ancestry, Thomas Delaney.

It was a big night for the goalkeeper, who became the first Jamaican to play in the Champions League on the night he replaced the recently departed Alan Mannus in goal.

Just before half time he pulled off a fine save when Diouf powered a free header towards the top corner from another Delaney cross.

O’Neill was delighted with the performance of his goalkeeper and the defence in front of him.

“He made key saves at key moments and dealt with everything else that was asked of him,” said O’Neill. “It was fantastic from him and fantastic from the back four. We defended valiantly.’’

Ken Oman, who picked up a knee injury late in the game, came closest for Rovers in the second half when his header had keeper Johan Wiland scrambling.

Both Ronan Finn and Twigg created chances for the Hoops as the game moved into the last quarter but they couldn’t claim the away goal ahead of next week’s return leg.

O’Neill said: “Every time the ball went into the box we asked questions of them and it gives us every encouragement for the second leg. The players enhanced their reputation.”

COPENHAGEN: Wiland; Thomsen (Sigurdsson 45), Ottesen, Jorgensen, Bengtsson; Bolanos, Claudemir, Grindheim, Delaney (Absalonsen 60); Diouf, Santin (Nordstrand 69).

SHAMROCK ROVERS: Thompson; Sullivan, Sives, Oman (Murray 82), Stevens; McCormack; Kelly (McCabe 52), Rice (Kilduff 89), Finn, Dennehy; Twigg.

Referee: Pavle Radovanovic (Montenegro).

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Relaxed Rovers ready for Danish test (Irish Examiner)

Match Preview published in the Irish Examiner

By Macdara Ferris
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

SHAMROCK ROVERS go into tonight’s Champions League third qualifying round clash against FC Copenhagen with a massive task. They must overcome a club that made the knockout stages of the competition last year, emerging from the group stages behind Barcelona before being eliminated in the last 16 by Chelsea.

It is a different situation for Rovers tonight compared with their other games this season with Copenhagen clear favourites. However, Rovers manager Michael O’Neill speaking in the Parken Stadium ahead of the game, feels this may actually help his side. “The pressure was on us to get through the last round,” said O’Neill, “We can maybe approach this game in a slightly more relaxed manner. The expectation level is lower and I think the players will relish that.”

Rovers are missing two of their key performers from their win against FC Flora Tallinn. Midfielder Chris Turner is suspended and will most likely be replaced by Stephen Rice. An even bigger miss could be Northern Ireland international Alan Mannus who joined SPL side St Johnstone last week.

Mannus will be replaced in goal by Jamaican international Ryan Thompson. Listening to Thompson, it is clear the keeper is confident about stepping up to play his first game in the Champions League. “I’m ready. I’ve been preparing for years and months, sitting on the bench, biding my time. Now I’m ready to go on and express myself. The stage is set, it’s about time I show here who Ryan Thompson is all about.”

His manager has no worries about his new keeper. “I think his mentality and his mindset will help him,” said a relaxed O’Neill. “He has the right character to deal with the situation.”

O’Neill went on to explain his team’s strategy for tonight’s game. “The objective is to make sure the tie is very much alive when we go back to Tallaght, to contain Copenhagen and look to exploit them when we get the opportunity to do so. We do believe there are areas that we can exploit.”

Copenhagen’s new manager Roland Nilsson, a former teammate of Michael O’Neill at Coventry City, spoke about Rovers. “They are well organised and have lots of energy,” said the former Swedish star. “We are favourites. If you are going to beat a team that are well organised, you need to do something to break it up and that is with good passing and a high tempo.”

SHAMROCK ROVERS (probable): Thompson; Sullivan, Sives, Oman, Stevens; Dennehy, Rice, Finn, McCormack, Kelly; Twigg.

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