“It’s a great opportunity for the lads, a great experience for them and it’s something we’re really looking forward to,” he says.
“The lads obviously beat HJK Helsinki in the last round, which was a huge success for both Cork soccer and Irish soccer. But now to prepare themselves for AS Roma, it’s going to be a different level for them.”
Bermingham illustrates just what a step up tonight’s game could prove to be by highlighting just a few of Roma’s recent achievements.
“They beat Apoel Nicosia 9-1 (on aggregate) in the last round. They beat Inter Milan 4-0 last Friday in the cup final. They won a league with some top teams in it — Juventus, Inter, AC Milan. They played against Barcelona twice in this competition last year and drew with them twice. So we’re under no illusions about how good they’re going to be. But, in saying that, we’ve got footage of them and we have a plan to be ready for them. So we’re really looking forward to the game.”
The growing quality within Cork City’s underage ranks has already been confirmed this season in the form of first team appearances by Chiedozie Ogbene, Conor McCarthy, and Cian Coleman.
“This is what we’re looking for in the club — players progressing from a young age, through U17s and U19s, to the senior team,” says Bermingham. “We’re looking at having a good pathway from start to finish. The club is in a great place at the moment. So whether we’re playing in Europe, in the league or in the cup, my main aim as a coach is to develop these players.
“The first day I sat down with John (Caulfield), that was the very first thing we said. We want to give players the experience and opportunity to play in the first team. And, with three of the lads already involved, it’s coming true for these lads.”
As, thrillingly, is the European dream.
“It’s the experience of a lifetime,” says Bermingham. “For these lads, a couple of months ago this was only a possibility. Now they have played in the Uefa Youth League. They have now won a game in the Uefa Youth league. And now they get an opportunity to play against AS Roma. If they progress on into the first team and get into Europe over the next couple of years, this will really stand to them.”
With admission at just €5 for adults and €1 for under 16s, the expectation is that the attendance at the Cross this evening will exceed the nearly 1,300-strong crowd which turned up to see the Rebel boys beat HJK.
“It should be a great occasion,” says Stephen Bermingham.