Red-letter night for Shamrock Rovers' Liverpool fan Ciaran Kilduff
The World Cup-bound stars like Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard may be absent and there won't be a trophy to parade either, but it's still anticipated that Liverpool's visit to the Aviva Stadium this evening for a friendly with Shamrock Rovers will draw a bigger turnout than Ireland's next outing at the venue.
Martin O'Neill's paymasters would be thrilled if over 40,000 punters turned out for Sunday's week meeting with Turkey in Dublin 4. However, a strong advance sale to watch Brendan Rodgers' side in action will mean that this unusually timed exhibition should draw a larger crowd, even if a limp finish to the league season and the absence of some marquee names have dashed hopes of a sell-out.
For the Rovers squad, it's a rare opportunity to sample the Aviva experience.
"Our group doesn't have any World Cup lads in it, so we'll all be there anyway," joked striker Ciaran Kilduff yesterday, ahead of training at the Ballsbridge venue.
There are no survivors from the Hoops squad which played at the venue in 2010 in the FAI Cup final so, while a handful have experience with other clubs or with the Airtricity League XI, there's a huge novelty value to this test.
Similar to supporters, they are eager for information from Liverpool on the calibre of the travelling party.
"We tried to get the list," said Rovers manager Trevor Croly. "But I'm sure whoever they have, they will play the same way that Brendan has them playing."
Imminent commitments in Brazil rule out established stars such as Suarez, Gerrard, Sturridge, Sterling, Henderson, Mignolet and Johnson. The FAI, who have a role in this game and hosted last year's Dublin Decider, didn't fully know who was part of the Reds squad until they landed on that occasion.
Rodgers' team fly in this morning and depart afterwards and the FAI have been informed that Philippe Coutinho – who missed the Brazil squad – Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel will be the most recognisable members of the group. Fabio Borini, who finished the season on-loan at Sunderland, is also included.
For Kilduff, a Liverpool fan, the opportunity to rub shoulders with some elite players will be a buzz. It has special resonance for the striker because he picked up his love for the Anfield club through his father, Kevin, who has been in hospital for the last fortnight due to heart issues but got the all-clear on the eve of the game.
"It's a nice touch for me to have him there," says the 25-year-old, who is conscious that Saturday's league meeting with Athlone is more important in the bigger picture, but knows a goal tonight is something that he would treasure forever.
"This is relevant in that every player wants to play on the big stage. I was at Rovers for the big Europa League games and when you're playing against a top team from a different county, it's great.
"This isn't competitive, but we've got a young squad and playing against a team like Liverpool in a stadium like this with the crowd that will be there makes it relevant in itself. You don't get that opportunity often in this league. The only time you get to play in this stadium is if you get to the FAI Cup final and I haven't been lucky enough to do that."
Croly has been part of a comparable affair before as a St Patrick's Athletic player who met Liverpool and Lazio in the Carlsberg tournament in 1998.
While his memories of the specifics are hazy, he remembers the difficulty of stepping up a level. Rovers have sold 4,500 tickets to their own fans, which means they will also have the majority of the stadium rooting against them, even if their regulars are more likely to provide the atmosphere.
He hopes that his group can give a good account of themselves in front of an audience that may not ever attend League of Ireland matches.
"It's up to us to market ourselves," he said. "And it's a great chance for our fans to come to a fantastic stadium and watch us play. We'll try and play and play the game for what it is. Liverpool will be expansive, that's the way they play. We'll have to prepare for that.
"I think we're a good team with some very good players and it'll be a good test. This is all positive."
SHAMROCK ROVERS V LIVERPOOL, LIVE, SETANTA SPORTS, 5.30pm
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