It’s good to touch green, green grass of home for roving Hoops
Friday March 13 2009
AFTER 22 years where it meant nothing, the ‘H’ beside tonight’s fixture for Shamrock Rovers finally has some resonance. The homeless Hoops are no more.
Tallaght Stadium is not quite the finished article ahead of the visit of Sligo Rovers, the side cleverly engineered as the opposition by the FAI when they drew up the fixture list, given that the Bit o’ Red were the visitors when the Dubliners played their last game at their spiritual home in Milltown.
They’ll be putting the finishing touches to some of the ancillary facilities at the venue, which is only really at stage one in terms of its completion, right up to the last minute. It may be the first stage, but it’s a major stage; one which means more than any other.
With just one stand in place for tonight – the structure on the opposite side of the pitch will be completed in the summer – demand for tickets outstripped supply, with all 3,500 berths readily snapped up. Considering the weight of requests, the hosts have been unable to invite the number of legendary figures from their past that they would love to have present for what promises to be an emotional occasion.
They will be feted in time but, in terms of this evening, chairman Jonathan Roche is desperate for everything to go according to plan and is looking for co-operation from the supporters in that regard.
“This is going to be a new experience for everyone,” he said, “not just for the fans, but for everyone involved behind the scenes, so I’d ask people to show patience. The gates open at 6.30pm, there’ll be entertainment from the start and we just want everyone who’s fortunate enough to have a ticket to get there early and really enjoy this special night.”
Amid all the ceremony, it would be easy to forget that there’s actually a football match to be played that is of importance to both Rovers, after they started their respective campaigns with draws last weekend.
While Sligo are looking to slip in under the radar, the home side have a lot to deal with as they are carrying the burden of responsibility to ensure that the opening night lives up to expectations.
“We’re aware of everything that’s going on and that it’s been a long road for Shamrock Rovers but we’ve been focused on the game plan on the pitch because that’s our job,” said midfielder Stephen Rice.
“This night is more about the fans getting to where they want to be, but we’ve got a job to do on the pitch.”
Shane Robinson, who has the honour of skippering the Hoops for the landmark event, hopes to draw on his big-game European experience with Drogheda to cope with the hullabaloo surrounding this encounter.
“There’s probably the same feeling about it, with a full house already and I’ll say there’ll be people outside the gate trying to get in,” says the Waterford man.
“In Europe, when you have a bigger support you often get a better performance on the pitch. Everyone wants to play in front of big crowds and at this club we have the opportunity to play in front of the biggest crowds possible in the league.”
Turning the floating Tallaght customer into Hoops fanatics is the long-term priority for all involved with Ireland’s most successful club. Tonight, however, is all about the people who stuck with them through the wilderness and ensured they survived into this bright new dawn. The wait is over.
Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers,