“It’s really just straight in and winner-takes-all”

By Daire Walsh

SHAMROCK Rovers talisman Jack Byrne believes that already having a home game under their belts in this season’s Europa League qualifiers will stand them in good stead ahead of the visit of AC Milan to the Tallaght Stadium this evening.

Just 21 days have passed since the Hoops edged a dramatic shootout against Finland’s Ilves in the same venue although the Serie A giants will represent a significant step up in quality, yet, in a one-off encounter, the high-flying south Dubliners can’t be discounted.

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Jack Byrne

“The first game here, the home advantage I think was huge for us. It’s different without the crowd there. European nights in Tallaght Stadium are special. You usually get a packed house and it’s really energetic.

That was something different that we had to deal with,” Byrne remarked at a media conference in Tallaght on Tuesday.

“It’s a knockout game and you don’t get that chance to feel the other team out. It’s really just straight in and winner-takes-all. It’s really four cup finals to try and get into the Europa League. It will be something that is different, but it’s different for all the teams to try and get used to.”

While Byrne and his team-mates are doing their best to view this as another game, the magnitude of the opposition - Milan are seven-time winners of the European Cup - means they run the risk of getting wrapped up in the occasion. For the former Manchester City prodigy, however, it is important to strip the game down to the basics of football.

‘It’s not every day AC Milan come over here and it’s not every week Irish teams play in these big games and such big occasions.

We’ve obviously done our analysis on them.

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AC Milan boasts some top stars like Zlatan Ibrahimović

“It’s going to be weird for them, watching clips of Aaron Greene running in behind and seeing how they can deal with Shamrock Rovers. For us, we’re just taking the AC Milan out of it. Approach it as 11 v 11 and try to do well for the club.”

When it comes to dealing with the build-up to a big European tie, Rovers have a perfect manager in the form of Stephen Bradley. In the summer of 2010, he featured in both legs of the Hoops’ third qualifying round exit to Juventus in the same competition.

Though his approach to tonight’s contest will be different now he’s in the dugout, he treated the arrival of an Italian heavyweight to the capital 10 years ago in much the same way Byrne is.

“It’s strange as a player, but once it kicks off it’s a game then. Leading up to it there’s a lot of hype and a lot of talk, but once the whistle goes it’s me against him,” Bradley said.

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