herald

Thursday 16 August 2018

LOI: Ricketts up for Europe

Well-travelled Rohan eager to help Hoops give Russians Euro jolt

START OFF playing with Arsenal's first team, finish up playing in the League of Ireland with Shamrock Rovers, with a few stops in places like Canada, Hungary, Moldova and Germany in between.

Where next? "Iraq, I think that's the next place for me," jokes Rohan Ricketts, the much-travelled Londoner who is now firmly part of the Shamrock Rovers squad in the most successful season in the club's history.

But that's where the jokes end for Ricketts, as the former Arsenal and Spurs man is deadly serious about his task tomorrow night, taking on Russian side Rubin Kazan at Tallaght Stadium.

Of course, it's a big night for the Hoops -- the first Irish club to make it into the group stages of a European competition and the furthest an Irish team has advanced since Rovers became the first Irish club to play in Europe, taking on the tragically ill-fated Busby Babes in 1957.



Boost

But it's also a big night for Ricketts, signed by Rovers boss Michael O'Neill two weeks ago to boost the squad ahead of that desperately busy finish to their season. Despite a decade in the game -- he made his senior debut for Arsenal in a 4-0 Carling Cup win over Manchester United in 2001 -- he's never played in a UEFA competition before, so the 28-year-old can't wait to get a place on the Euro bandwagon with Rovers.

"It would mean a lot to me to play against Rubin, if selected," Ricketts told the Herald.

"I remember being in Germany and playing against Werder Bremen. It was great to test myself at that level and I want to do the same again here tomorrow.

"I never had any doubt about myself or my ability, but I have never played at European level before so this is a big deal for me. Hopefully tomorrow will be my European debut," says the talented midfield man.

"It's a credit to the boys in the squad that we are here. I didn't play any part in winning the league last season or in getting to this stage in Europe, but if picked tomorrow I will try my heart out and hope we can win the game."

The vast majority of the Rovers squad have a predictable CV. It's made up either of Irish players or bargains picked up from Britain by O'Neill, with Jamaican keeper Ryan Thompson the only one to come in from outside these islands.

But Ricketts has been there and done that. After making that early breakthrough -- one game -- with Arsenal he moved across London, to Tottenham.



Travels

He made 30 league appearances for Spurs, also having spells with Wolves, Coventry, QPR and Barnsley, before he started off on his travels in 2008, joining Canadian side Toronto (who played in the USA senior league).

But then came the Euro trip, the Londoner appearing in Hungary (Diogsgyori), Moldova (a very unhappy spell with Dacia Chisinau) and Germany (lower league side Wilhelmshaven), and he was at a loose end when the summons to Dublin came.

"I have done things differently. It's been an unpredictable career for me so far," he reflects.

"I didn't plan to go to all those places but it's just the way it's worked out.

"I have been forced into a lot of things by the transfer window, it just doesn't suit me because I have been rushed into moves that didn't work out.

"But it was a story and in some ways it was unique. I didn't intend to go to those places but I did, I stuck it out as much as I could, I saw different things as a player and as a person," he added.

"Now I am here and happy to be at Rovers. I don't know if I'll be in the team for tomorrow. That's up to the manager to make that call. All I can do is try my best in training and see if it's good enough.

"I know I'm not as match-fit as the other lads. They have been playing all season so I am behind them, but I am working hard to get up to full fitness. I played in the first two games and my fitness is still getting there."

Ricketts impressed as a sub in Monday's league draw with St Pats. "It was a high-intensity match and a great game to play in. It was probably a great game for the fans to see," he says.

"But now it's all about Europe and to me it's great that we have the game tomorrow in our home ground.

"The Aviva is a nice stadium, but we're not going to fill that so there's no point in playing in a half-empty ground when we can fill our home stadium.

"Our fans will pack the place tomorrow and unsettle Rubin.

"I think Rubin won't expect how intense it will be. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

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