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'It shouldn’t faze them' - Stevens backing Rovers to impress against AC Milan

A decade after the Irish left-back played for the Hoops against Juventus, he will be watching on as Zlatan and co. arrive at Tallaght.

SHAMROCK ROVERS YESTERDAY drew their biggest European tie against Italian opposition since the last one. 

A decade before AC Milan came out of the hat, Rovers were drawn in a two-legged Europa League tie with Juventus. They lost the first leg 2-0 at Tallaght and were then beaten 1-0 in the return leg, held amid a deluge in Modena and won by a stunning Alessandro Del Piero free-kick. 

Source: MsWojteksss/YouTube

Irish international Enda Stevens played in the first leg and was an unused sub in the second. 

“It was unbelievable”, Stevens recalled at a press conference ahead of Thursday’s Uefa Nations League clash with Bulgaria.

“It was a massive occasion for me personally, Juventus coming to Tallaght. It was great that we got to play them at home and then play them away. It was disappointing that we didn’t get to play in their stadium. I think U2 had a concert. So we had to play somewhere else.”

All has changed this time around. The pandemic means Rovers/Milan is a one-legged tie that will – understandably if still cruelly – be held behind closed doors.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to watch it”, says Stevens of the 17 September tie.

“It’s a massive game for them, it’s a bit disappointing that the fans won’t be there but still a huge tie. 

“It’s a chance for them to show what they can do. They have got to have that belief that they can win the game. It’s a one-off game. Especially at home. It’s going to be some experience for them but it shouldn’t faze them. They should just go out there and express themselves.”

Milan have stalked the Irish soccer pages for a few weeks at this point, having been linked with a move for Jeff Hendrick, who has ultimately signed for Newcastle United. 

“It would have been strange if Jeff had made his debut in Tallaght”, laughs Stevens. 

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Another Irish international on the move last week was Matt Doherty, who completed a €16.5 million move to Spurs. “We were all delighted for him”, says Stevens. “It’s a brilliant move for him. He has come a long way from his Cabra days with FÁS. It’s unbelievable.

“I think he’s just been loving the attention he’s been getting over the last few days, his face is all over Sky Sports News! I think he’s still on cloud nine. He just needs to get his feet back down to earth in the next few days.”

enda-stevens Enda Stevens trains with the Irish team at Abbottstown yesterday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

While there remains debate as to who will start at right-back – Doherty or Seamus Coleman – Stevens looks nailed-on for a starting berth at left-back. Not that he sees it that way. 

“I don’t think you should ever be comfortable. Footballers should always be kept on their toes. You have to perform well to play, and that’s what I’ll do, get my head down, work hard, and try to impress the manager.” 

And what are the players impression of the new manager? 

“He’s brilliant. You can just see his passion in the meetings. He really wants us to do well, he wants us to go and express ourselves. He wants us to just show what we can do when we get out on the pitch.

“He’s setting us out in a certain way that we have to listen, we have to take a lot into account and produce it on the training pitch first and foremost and then take that on to the pitch on Thursday.

“I think he wants to instill confidence in us to play and be on the front foot. With the previous manager Mick, he tried to do that and it kind of worked for a bit. We played well, we picked up performances and we just didn’t get the results. The new manager will come with his own ideas, he still wants to us to play front-foot football, we just need to implement his ideas on the pitch.” 

The Irish squad will train at Abbottstown again this morning, ahead of a flight to Bulgaria later today. Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher has been promoted from the U21 squad to replace the injured Kieran O’Hara.

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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