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RICE OUT TO SHOCK HOOPS

FOR SIX years, the 'Stephen Rice Song' was one of the most popular chants from hardcore Shamrock Rovers supporters.

As the midfielder prepares to face his former club for the first time in a major game tonight Rice, now at Longford Town, is unsure if the song will get an airing during tonight's FAI Cup tie at Tallaght Stadium.

With their league title bid fading, the FAI Cup is Rovers' best chance of a major trophy this season - though they are of course in the EA Sports Cup final - and automatic European qualification so the good wishes of the Rovers support towards their former hero Rice will only go so far as the FAI Cup is now a big deal for Pat Fenlon and his club.

And Rice admits it will be a strange experience to line out at Tallaght Stadium on the opposing side - he has played for Longford against Rovers B in the First Division but this is different.

"I have asked that we can wear our yellow away jersey instead of our home kit," jokes Rice, aware that the sight of him in the normal red and black strip of Longford, colours they share with Rovers' bitter rivals Bohemians, could be too much to bear for Rovers fans who adored Rice in a six-season spell with yielded two league titles.

"And I don't know if the Rovers fans will sing the song about me, maybe if they have beaten us well they'll give it a blast.

"It will be strange to go back to Tallaght and be in the away dressing room, I had so many good years and good memories there. I have some good friends at the club and in the Rovers squad.

"But I will leave all of that stuff until after the game, I won't allow myself get caught up in things before the game, saying hello to people and stuff like that, I will go there, play the game and after the final whistle there will be time to talk to people. I know what it's like to play in a big game against your former club," added Rice, who had five seasons at Bohs before his 2008 move to Rovers.

"You have to take all the emotion out of it and try to treat it as a normal game. I had great success at Rovers but that's in the past now, and my aim is to have the same success with Longford Town."

An experienced League of Ireland player now, the 30-year-old knows that the two clubs have different priorities for the remainder of the season. For Longford, the First Division title, and automatic promotion, is the main goal while a Cup final win - and that guaranteed Europa League slot - is key for Pat Fenlon.

Yet Rice and his team-mate are not giving the Cup the cold shoulder. "I have never won the FAI Cup, it's the one trophy I have yet to win and I want to change that," he says.

"I know Pat Fenlon will want to win the Cup with Rovers and have a good finish to the season but we're serious about it as well, playing in the Cup final at the Aviva is a massive attraction for any player. I think Pat Sullivan is the only player in our squad who has won the Cup before, so we all want to change that."

The bookmakers don't seem confident in an upset tonight with odds of 8/1 on a Longford win, Town's current status possibly weakened by a recent run that has seen Tony Cousins' side take just one point from the last two games, Longford's lead at the top of the Division One table now down to three points.

But before that Longford had an exceptional run in the league, 11 wins and a draw from 12 games, form that gives Rice hope of an upset tonight. And there's also the small matter of his team-mates, as Rice feels that the unheralded players in Cousins' squad have pose as much of a threat as the seasoned LOI pros like Rice, Pat Sullivan and Don Cowan.

CLEAN SHEETS

"We have some real talent here," says the 30-year-old. "Our keeper, Paul Hunt, is exceptional, he's had an amazing run of clean sheets this season that if it had happened in the Premier Division people would be shouting from the rooftops but you get a bit ignored in the First Division.

"We have Jamie Mulhall, who is only 17 but is some prospect, he is playing in the first team every week and he's taken to it with ease. People outside of the club don't know that much about Gary Shaw and David O'Sullivan as they're mainly played in the First Division but they are both a real threat, and we have lads like Glen O'Connor and Noel Haverty who are real talents," added Rice.

"I know it's a big ask to win away to Shamrock Rovers, but I know what we are capable of and it's just a matter of whether we can do that on the pitch tonight."

"I saw Rovers play Bohemians in the EA Sports Cup recently and they were very impressive. Obviously they have had a difficult few weeks with Trevor Croly leaving and Pat Fenlon coming in, Pat has come in and had a reaction from the players so I know they will be up for the game tonight.

"But so are we. This club has big ambitions, I know the league is the priority for us but a Cup run is something we are really aiming for."


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