IT WASN’T long before the cold, bracing slap of reality intruded on Shamrock Rovers’ fairytale night in Tallaght.
Two minutes, 54 seconds to be exact. Real Madrid this wasn’t.
Little over a year has passed since the Spanish giants pitched up in south Dublin after a few days in the plush surrounds of Carton House. It took Karim Benzema all of 87 minutes to find the goal that spared galactico blushes that night.
That was the evening that Cristiano Ronaldo made his debut for his new club and the night when the Portuguese multimillionaire was dumped so unceremoniously to the turf by Rovers’ Pat Flynn.
There was no repeat of that last night. Flynn was kicking his heels on the bench rather than any of the Italian stars when referee Fernandez Borbolan got the game underway and it didn’t take the glamorous visitors all that long to shake the summer’s sand from their toes. The hope ever since Rovers got the better of Beni Yehuda was that the ‘Old Lady’ would struggle to find her stride after a summer’s indolence and with coach Luigi Del Neri in charge for the first time in a competitive fixture.
The initial signs were promising.
Leonardo Bonucci and Mohamed Sissoko brought their first two possessions to an abrupt end by sending long passes directly into touch but then came Amauri’s beautifully crafted first goal. Cue silence.
You feared for the Hoops. Their first appointment in Europe back in 1958 had paired them with Manchester United’s Busby Babes and that had ended with a 6-0 defeat.
This Juventus side are far from heirs apparent to that mythical bunch and yet there was no hiding the gulf between the visitors during a first half in which the home side relied on long balls in the direction of lone striker Gary Twigg.
There’s a fine line for Irish clubs playing at this level in Europe: show too much respect — as Rovers seemed to do in that opening 45 — and you risk leaving the competition laden down with regrets.
To go at the likes of Juve bald-headed would have been equally self-destructive but Michael O’Neill’s side seemed to find the middle ground with a second-half display in which they played more football and pushed further up the pitch.
The Italians didn’t take kindly to the changing course of events and their disgruntlement was highlighted by a hefty challenge from Claudio Marchisio on Robert Bayly with 20 minutes left. It was game on.
For a while, older Rovers fans must have allowed their minds to wander back to a famous night in 1966 when a Billy Dixon goal had been enough to earn the Irish side a famous 1-1 home draw against Bayern Munich.
Amauri’s second nipped those thoughts firmly in the bud but if your European dreams are to die then it is no shame if the assassin is a half-Brazilian, half-Italian striker who cost one of the world’s most famous clubs €22.8m.
Whatever happened on the pitch, the night was always going to be a success off it, even if the killjoy UEFA mandarins in Switzerland had done their best to stick a pin in the festivities by refusing a request for 4,000 extra seats on the night.
As it was, the Dublin mountains offered a scenic enough vista at one end while the sight of the Tallaght Square shopping centre at the other provided for a slightly surreal backdrop to a game adorned by the famous black-and white stripes.
Any number of titbits have been plucked from the two clubs’ colourful histories to highlight the very different planets they have both inhabited for the last hundred or so years. We’ll settle for just the one here.
The last time Juve won the Champions League was back in 1996. Rovers? Well, it took them eight games to register a single win that season. One game in the RDS, against Dundalk, attracted no more than 400 punters.
That the two collided last night was down to the spiralling fortunes of the Italians and the upward curve surfed by Rovers who flirted with extinction before they were finally granted the keys to their salvation in Tallaght.
Last night was one their fans could hardly have dreamt of during the many years they wandered homeless around the capital but it was one richly deserved by a club seen by many as the perfect template for an ever-struggling domestic league.
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