Hoops hope for lengthy Europe run
SIMON Madden wants the current crop of Shamrock Rovers players to write a new chapter in the club's European history, starting tonight in Luxembourg.
After a two-year absence from Europe, the Hoops are back in UEFA competition, taking on Progrès Niedercorn in the first leg of their Europa League first qualifying round tie tonight (6pm, Irish time).
Some of the Rovers panel will be making their debuts at this level as lads like Craig Hyland, David Webster, Brandon Miele and Mikey Drennan have yet to play in Europe.
Winger Gary McCabe is the only survivor from the Rovers squad which made the group stages of the Europa League in 2011 and while the new breed may be jealous of those nights against Spurs, Rubin Kazan and PAOK, Madden hopes that 2015 can be a good year for the Hoops - if Rovers get past this round, they will play the winners of the tie between Sheriff (Moldova) and Odds (Norway).
"A lot of us haven't played in Europe before, especially the younger lads and it's an exciting time for them," says Madden, who previously played in Europe while on the books at Derry City.
"We have heard all about what the team did in 2011, it was a great achievement but hopefully we can have a good run and make sure we have a lot of games and some good trips in Europe this season
"I know the younger lads in our squad have asked Gary what it was like, playing away to the likes of Spurs in Europe, and they'd love to do something in Europe themselves.
"I had a taste of Europe when I was with Derry, we got a very tough draw against Trabzonspor and we had a hard time against them, they beat us 7-2 on aggregate but the were a top-class Turkish side with a massive wage bill," Madden told The Herald.
"This one is different, we were 2-0 down after 15 minutes in the first leg in Turkey but our heads didn't drop and we got back to 2-2, though they won 4-2 on the night. Hopefully we won't be 2-0 down early on in the game tonight."
Madden admits that the favourites tag brings added pressure. "We got a good draw, we are expected to win so we just have to deal with that, it's all about getting to the next round," he says.
"Our league form is good, we had a decent win in Galway on Friday night. we're getting wins and scoring goals so the confidence is high.
"Playing in Europe causes some problems as you have to reorganise your schedule and re-fix league games but it's brilliant to be in Europe, at this stage of the season you train less because you have more matches and that's what players like, you love playing in big matches and Europe is a great stage to play on."
Madden made his European debut, for Derry City, against a very talented Trabzonspor side which contained a number of big names but stars are hard to spot in the Progrès squad.
Yet Madden says the Hoops can't take the opposition for granted.
"You try to treat it like a league game, impose ourselves on them in the way we always play," he says.
"We will have done our homework but it's only in the first 10-15 minutes of the game where you see exactly what they are like. Hopefully we can do enough to win and take a good result back to Tallaght for the second leg.
While Rovers did have that two-year exile from European football, they have a much stronger pedigree than their opponents in Luxembourg this evening.
Progrès Niedercorn are one of the minnows of the club scene in Luxembourg, as they have only ever competed in Europe on five previous occasions, the most recent in 1982, and overall they have never managed to win a game, or even keep a clean sheet, in Europe with nine defeats from 10 games in UEFA competition.
History is also on Ireland's battles between clubs from the two nations as Rovers (1966) and Dundalk (2010, 2014) have knocked out opposition from Luxembourg on each occasion.
Rovers flew out to Luxembourg yesterday morning. While striker Drennan is available for Europe despite serving a domestic suspension, boss Fenlon has a number of injury concerns.
Keith Fahey and Sean O'Connor are definitely absent - O'Connor is out for the season - but Fenlon hopes that Max Blanchard, Conor Kenna and Danny North, who all missed Friday's league win over Galway United, could be fit in time.