Luke Byrne buzzing as Damien Duff gets Pat Fenlon daring to dream
Published 16/07/2015 | 02:30
The excitement in Luke Byrne's face summed up the general mood in Shamrock Rovers at the moment.
The 22-year-old has gone from idolising Damien Duff to now hoping that the Ireland legend doesn't take his place in the Hoops' starting XI.
The signing of the former Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea, Newcastle United and Fulham star has given the club another significant boost aehad of their Europa League date with Norwegian side Odds BK in Tallaght tonight.
Pat Fenlon did his best to avoid talking about Duff prior to the first leg of their first round qualifier last week, but this time the topic was unavoidable.
Duff was in Tallaght yesterday during Rovers' training session and, although he is still up to three weeks away from a return from injury, Byrne is alread relishing the prospect of linking up with him on the left flank.
"Please God. Hopefully he doesn't play left-back," he smiled. "I grew up watching him and he was one of my favourite players so if I can keep up with him, I'd love to go around him.
"He's probably been one of Ireland's best players and when I was growing up I loved to watch him."
That Byrne's earliest memory of Duff is the winger's iconic goal celebration against Saudi Arabia at the 2002 World Cup says a lot about the generation gap.
But Byrne insisted that the 36-year-old has slotted seamlessly into the group.
"Damien is really down to earth. He came around and mixed into the group straight away.
"He's injured at the minute so he wasn't out on the pitch training but we'll get to know him very quickly.
"The European games are the priority but there's been a bit of a buzz around and talk amongst the lads since we heard (about Duff's signing) in the media.
"It's going to help us, especially the young lads, and we're all looking forward to seeing how he looks after himself."
For Fenlon, it's a chance to work with a third Irish international at Rovers - along with Keith Fahey and Stephen McPhail - although none of the trio will be available for tonight's clash against Odds - and the manager is delighted to have Duff on board.
The club's sponsors are the ones who seemingly made the signing happen but Fenlon is adamant that it's never been about the money for Duff, who may also take up a coaching role with one of the younger teams.
"From his point of view, when I met him - and I met him only once to be honest - the big thing I got from him was that he wanted to play. He wasn't interested in anything else," Fenlon maintained.
"He felt he had a point to prove still. If we can get him onto the pitch and in the form he's capable of, then he'll be a great signing.
"You look at where he's been and what he's done. And then you read some of the stuff this week about players in England and think 'f***ing hell'.
"It's not for him. He just wants to play. The key at the moment is to hold him back and stop him getting on the pitch.
"It's just about making sure he's right to get him on the pitch. He just has a love of playing. That's a real key."
Sean O'Connor remains on the injury list along with Fahey and McPhail but Conor Kenna and Max Blanchard both trained this week.
Fenlon is fully aware that tonight's game is a "big test" but it is one he and his players are ready for.
"The Norwegian league is decent so we know we're going into a game against higher calibre opposition," he said.
"We are going into this round thinking it would be great to get through again and dreaming about what's ahead."