Price right for Bohs' showdown with Hoops
For younger fans of Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers, the dynamic between the fierce rivals ahead of their first meeting of the season at Dalymount Park tonight is an unfamiliar one.
Older followers of the Dublin clubs might say that the derby has simply returned to its roots. After a decade of Bohs largely ruling the roost, and the Hoops coming into these games as the underdogs, the shoe is now firmly on the other foot.
Michael O'Neill's team travel to Phibsborough in the role of defending champions, with a squad that is the envy of every other manager in the country. That's a sentence in which the name Pat Fenlon generally used to figure. Not now, though. Rovers aficionados will merely state that normal order has been restored.
The Bohs-Rovers enmity intensified back in the 1980s when the Hoops dominated Irish football and used their position to have their pick of available players from around the league. Emerging talents such as current Gypsies assistant Liam O'Brien and Irish U-19 manager Paul Doolin learned their trade with Bohs, before being plucked by Rovers. It hurt fans of the northside club and tension was the unavoidable consequence.
They enjoyed taking players such as Tony Grant and James Keddy from Rovers when they had the wealth at the beginning of this century. However, rash spending has left them feeding off the scraps and it is no great surprise that they enter this game with some players on their books that were deemed surplus to requirements by the Tallaght club.
O'Neill picked up Ken Oman from Bohs in the build-up to this campaign, and mulled over the prospect of taking others. Fenlon, on the other hand, was only able to cobble together a squad in the final weeks of the pre-season due to the uncertainty at the club, which almost led to his departure in recent weeks.
One of the players he recruited was Aidan Price, the central defender who was key to the rise of Rovers from the lows of the First Division to the top of the ladder. He was released by O'Neill at the end of last season after suffering the pain of sitting on the bench for the FAI Cup final.
Price is held in high regard by Rovers fans, and will likely be spared the abuse that goes with switching sides. He acknowledges that it has taken his family a little bit of time to get used to his new status in red and black.
"I think I've grown into it now," said Price. "Some of the family at the start said the same (that it was odd), but I've come to terms with it now.
"Obviously, I have an awful lot of friends still there and a lot of people behind the scenes at the club, but they want to go out and win and I want to go out and win.
"I'm grateful to be playing in a game of this magnitude. I've played in it from the other side and I'm still getting the chance to play in it.
"A lot of people at Rovers were very good to me and I'm grateful for that, but they know that it's a game of football and they won't be worried about me. They are grateful for the players they have now. I had great times there and I can't deny that, but football is football and that's the way it goes."
The Hoops have sold out their allocation and come into this game on a high after an impressive Setanta Cup win over Sligo on Monday. But, after last week's shock loss to Bray, they could be overtaken by tonight's opponents with a defeat here. For his part, O'Neill points out that Bohs are still a force to be reckoned with, despite the upheaval over the winter.
"There has been a lot written and said about how young this Bohs side is, but our team is actually even younger," he said. "They also have plenty of experience in their ranks."
The stage is set for an electric evening.