Rovers ready for visit of Linfield
SHAMROCK ROVERS hope that tonight's high-security Setanta Cup showdown with Linfield can breathe new life into the cross-border competition, with the Hoops hierarchy confident that the event will pass by without any trouble.
This is the first meeting between the traditional powers in a tournament that has struggled to capture the imagination after an initial spurt of interest when it was established in 2005.
Rovers and Linfield have not met in a competitively since their 1984 European Cup tie, a meeting where fears over crowd disturbances due to the Troubles dominated the build-up. In the end, travelling support was restricted and there were only minor disturbances, which paled in comparison with the ugly scenes at the UEFA Cup meeting between Bohemians and Rangers at Dalymount Park three weeks previously.
Nevertheless, with a healthy Linfield contingent expected to make the journey from Belfast, there will be a significant garda presence in Dublin 24. The organisers are expecting a lively atmosphere, but anticipate nothing worse than the inevitability of some hostile chants.
Rovers chairman Jonathan Roche is a big supporter of the competition and feels this occasion can show that the cup has a future; Setanta's sponsorship is set to end, but he believes the initiative will continue.
"I think it will be going next year," says Roche. "It won't be called the Setanta Cup, but, hopefully, it will go on. We believe it's a great competition, we've really enjoyed it.
"The commercial nature of the competition is very good as well. There's a minimum payment, and a bonus for winning matches and progressing to the next round. It might feel a little like a pre-season tournament for the Airtricity League clubs, but once you get to this stage it's a different story. We're expecting a big crowd, it's on TV and it should add to the profile."
Hoops boss Trevor Croly is similarly enthusiastic. From a football point of view, he won't be fooled by Linfield's poor domestic campaign. David Jeffrey's men came into this Irish League season having won six out of the last seven titles, but sit in third place, 14 points behind leaders Cliftonville, as the finishing line approaches. They were not involved in the weekend's Irish Cup quarter-finals.
"They're not having a good season by their standards, but they haven't become bad players overnight," says Croly. "I've been to see them and they've got good players – they know to win things."
Elsewhere tonight at the Showgrounds, Sligo Rovers kick off the serious business by welcoming Glentoran for the first bout of their quarter-final, while it's an all-Airtricity League clash at the Brandywell where Declan Devine's Derry City play host to Drogheda.
One tie is up for decision tonight, with Cork City and Crusaders having played the first leg of their encounter in Turner's Cross last week on account of the Leesiders' league opener with Limerick being moved to next Sunday for TV purposes. A late goal from Danny Morrissey gave Thomas Dunne's side a one-goal advantage ahead of tonight's trip to the home of the defending champions.
Shamrock Rovers v Linfield,
Live, Setanta Ireland, 7.30