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O'Neill urges Rovers to rise to Israeli challenge

SHAMROCK ROVERS boss Michael O'Neill feels that his team of Euro rookies will show no fear of the European stage when they take on Israeli side Bnei Yehuda in Tallaght tonight.

Rovers are back in Europe for the first time in eight years so logistically the Hoops are once again getting used to the off-field demands of Uefa competition. But on the field it's also a new experience as more than half of the likely Rovers starting line-up tonight have never played in Europe before. Players like Aidan Price, James Chambers, Pat Kavanagh, Billy Dennehy, Gary Twigg and Craig Sives will all make their European debuts against a side managed by Dror Kashtan, former manager of the Israeli national team.

Boss O'Neill knows all about the demands of Europe -- he was a fresh-faced 16-year-old when he played for Coleraine against Stahl Brandenburg in the Uefa Cup back in 1986 -- and it was on the back of his displays for the Bannsiders against Dundee United a year later that the earned a move to Newcastle United.

But O'Neill is not concerned about the lack of Euro experience in his squad as he feels that his players, currently top of the Premier Division table, are ready for the challenge.

"I think an awful lot of emphasis is put on experience. I think younger players, the Billy Dennehys, the James Chamblers, the Tommy Stewarts of this world, go and play and show what you're capable of. They don't have any fear of playing and go and enhance your own reputation personally and, in doing so, enhance the reputation of the club," said O'Neill.

"Some have European experience, some don't but will get it. To be one season in Tallaght and now have European football is great.


"This puts the club back on the map, it's been a long time since we've been in Europe and the club was used to being there every year," added O'Neill as Rovers return to Europe for the first time since a 5-1 defeat by Swedish side Djurgardens in 2002.

Only once before has an Irish side faced Israeli opposition (when Cork City had a 0-0 away draw against Maccabi Petah Tikvain 1997's Intertoto Cup) so it's a trip into the unknown for Rovers as a club and as a team.

O'Neill has done his homework, though, as he saw Bnei Yehuda in the flesh last week when they beat Armenian side FC Ulises in the second leg of their first qualifying round tie.

"I've been to Tel Aviv and done the logistics. We're under no illusions that it's a big test. They are very comfortable on the ball and probably slightly disappointed at only winning 1-0," he says.

"Of all the teams in the draw they are probably the most difficult we could get. They play 4-4-2 which maybe you don't see a lot of in European football, particularly the higher up you go.

"But I think they are a team that are comfortable on the ball. The two midfield players in particular handle the ball very well, they have pace on both flanks and technically good forwards.

"They played a possession type of game which you'd expect, I'd imagine Israeli football is like that in the conditions they play in. I think we have to try and impose ourselves on them, make it as uncomfortable for them as possible, dictate the tempo of the game."

Dessie Baker and Pat Sullivan are the only absentees from the Rovers squad.

Meanwhile, the Israeli club's coach reckons that Rovers have an advantage tonight due to the timing of their season. "Our season doesn't start until August 21 but the Irish team have already played 20 games," says Kashtan, national team coach from 2006 until recently.

"We have only been playing Europa League ties since July 1 so it is difficult for us.

"But we will continue to do our best and prepare as well as we can."