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Price rising to Juve test

When Shamrock Rovers were relegated in 2005 the future for the club was anything but bright.

The club was still homeless when newly appointed manager Pat Scully set about rebuilding a side with the limited resources at his disposal.

Keeping just three players from the previous season, Scully's first new signing was Aidan Price, a Tallaght man who played for Kilkenny City. Price went on to captain Shamrock Rovers in a dramatic season that saw them clinch the Division One title and shoot back into the top flight.

Today, at 28, he's the longest-serving player in the current squad. Tomorrow the rangy centre-back is set for the biggest challenge of his career, shackling an experienced Juventus strike force that has struck fear into every team in every tournament they've competed in.

"It's brilliant," enthuses Aidan Price. "All your life you've been looking at these players, people like Del Piero. And watching what they've achieved in World Cups and in European Championships for Juventus. That's what you want. You always say to yourself you'd love to test yourself against these players to see how good they are. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to do that and show what we're capable of as well."

The Hoops will be going into the tie as complete underdogs, which suits Price down to the ground.

"We can play with freedom and express ourselves, once we keep our concentration," he says. "That extra edge, that concentration, is the difference between a lot of teams. Because, make no mistake, they are capable of picking you off with a pass if you show a lapse of concentration. We're going to have to play extremely well to do well but we know we're capable of that. We're in the middle of our season and we have momentum and hopefully that'll carry us through moments when we need it."

It was a very different story five years ago when Price switched to relegated Rovers from Kilkenny City.

"Initially when I signed up I was told how much of a family club it is and how much it means to people," he recalls. "I was told you don't experience it until you're in there but it's true. As soon as we signed up we had untold amounts of people travelling to places like Cobh to watch us play First Division football. They showed their support for the club and how much it meant to them. And how much they wanted us to succeed. We were such a young team then. We had so many players that were First Division who were looking for experience and they got it at Rovers. To succeed that year was brilliant.

"I remember the last game of the season was down in Cobh and there were men of 70 years of age crying just to see the club getting back to where it should be with the right people looking after it. People who had the club at heart. That was incredible."

If Price was impressed then, he's been bowled over ever since with the dedication and commitment shown by the Shamrock Rovers hardcore.

"There has been consistent improvement ever since," he insists. "Since the fans came in and put their own money into it and put a board in place, they've shown that the club comes first. They're not going to jeopardise the club again. They want things done properly but on the right scale. They're not going to overspend. They've shown they're hungry and that determination has transferred throughout the whole club."

Price has perfect recall of his first match for the Hoops. It was against Dundalk in Division One.

"We were one-nil down to Dundalk at home," he tells me. "For a lot of us, it was the biggest crowd we'd ever played in front of. There were two or three thousand at that game in Tolka Park. We got two late goals that night. That was unbelievable. You could see the sheer excitement in people to see us winning that first game. We were absolutely battered by Dundalk that day but we got two late goals. And that spurred us on for the rest of the season. I remember in Limerick, where we won 2-0 away from home, hearing that Dundalk were after being beaten in Monaghan and that put a belief into us that we were going to win it this year.

"They were brilliant times," he says. "But ever season since then there have been improvements both on and off the field. Getting into the stadium has been phenomenal. I'm from Tallaght and I played against Rovers in '99 or 2000. I was playing non-League for Dublin Bus at the time. I have the programme at home and there was a big piece in it on the Stadium and they were hoping to get it opened within the next year or two. But back then for it not to be opened until 2009 was crazy."

Price seems tailormade for Shamrock Rovers. Few are as appreciative of the support system that the Hoops fans have in place for their players.

On the subject of the high-profile visit last year of Real Madrid, he remains strikingly unfussed about the Galacticos, preferring to highlight his own club's development.

"The crowd at the Real Madrid match showed what the fan base can be," he declares. "They (Rovers) knew what they wanted when they got into the community of Tallaght because it was such an untapped area. They put down the groundwork years beforehand when they put in the schoolboy teams.


"They knew that when they'd get into the Stadium that it would take off and it has. We ran the League close last year. We let it slip away in the last few years. But hopefully that experience will stand us in good stead come this year. The bonuses are in getting games like this (Juventus). Last year was so good for us that it put us in the position that we can play in Europe this year. It's given the fans something to be proud of. That's what we want."

Rovers' achievement in travelling to Tel Aviv for an away match, coping with security implications and Middle Eastern July heat and coming away with a crucial one-nil win, is quite remarkable. Now that the dust has settled on that historic victory, what is Aidan's take on the adventure?

"It was of the most pleasing team performances I've ever been involved in," he enthuses. "Even a week after it, I get goosebumps thinking about it. It was brilliant. From getting there and having those few days together as a group. I've spoken to a few people and the feeling is that the last few weeks has been the best football we've played. We started putting good results together since the break and hopefully we've shown that this is only the start of what we're capable of.

"We'd said before the match that even if they (Bnei Yehuda) score early it doesn't change much because we knew we had to score anyway," he says.

"We knew that the longer we kept the game alive that we would get a chance and that we had the ability to take that chance. We've shown that we're also a very good counter-attacking team. We're well capable of keeping our shape and keeping it tight at the back. We have the pace and ability to hit teams on the counter-attack. We scored a few goals the way we got that goal the other night. We scored one against Bohs during the season. We know we're capable of scoring goals and of soaking up the pressure.

"For the last 10 minutes they were firing balls in on top of us and that suited us down to the ground. They were panicking, knowing that they were going to be out and we were capable of winning those headers and keeping it nice and tight. Our keeper (Alan Mannus) is easily the best in the country. He's been immense. He was the difference between us winning or drawing. Some of the saves he made wouldn't have looked out of place in the World Cup."

I don't have to tell Aidan that nothing's been won yet. He tells me.

"We want to win the League," he states. "Hopefully this can set up our season and keep us on a roll and show us what we are capable of. Those small steps are all hopefully leading to winning trophies. With the squad we have we feel we're good enough. We're near to a full-strength squad apart from some long-term injuries. Everybody wants to be in the team. The competition is there."

Aidan believes the fervent Shamrock Rovers support can give the team an added edge in Tallaght tomorrow night.

"When we first heard that the fans were going to be right in the centre of the stadium in Tel Aviv, it was brilliant," he reveals. "Their fans were loud as well but there was a wonderful echo in the stadium and throughout the whole game, all we could hear was the Rovers fans. It was unbelievable. For them to experience that with us was wonderful. The drive from the supporters for us to do well was magnificent."

In every club there are players who'll kiss the crest and wave to the supporters. With Aidan Price there's a sense of something deeper. A sense of a bond forged over years of struggle and strife. There's a hint of the type of bond that makes things difficult for anyone trying to upset the common good.

"As much as it's a fairytale it's also security for the club," he insists about recent success. "It puts the club back on the map. A lot of the success was 30 years ago but this has people excited again. And that has been happening for the last two years. Everyone is speaking about how much of a role model the club is for the League.

"And that comes from hard work and people willing to sacrifice a lot," he explains. "There are a lot of people in this club who've sacrificed an awful lot of money, time and effort to see days like this. That's what you appreciate about the club. You appreciate people like that because you see how much of their genuine time they're willing to sacrifice for this. That's unbelievable. You don't forget people like that."

Juventus could be in for more than they bargained for tomorrow.