Jack Byrne is in his Shamrock Rovers strip at the Aviva Stadium but there’ll be no football kicked here today.
Doing his promotional duty for the launch of the Fifa 20 SSE Airtricity League Club Pack, he surveys the empty ground where he recently made his first appearance for Ireland in the friendly victory over Bulgaria.
“Well, obviously it’s a lot different than when you are just running on to make your debut,” he reflects. “I don’t think that you can describe that feeling. But it’s nice to be back and hopefully I can be back again for a cup final on the third of November.”
Which is another way of saying that international ambitions are definitely parked for this week as, with Dundalk’s title-clinching win at Oriel Park on Monday confirming that Rovers have fallen short in the league, Byrne can now afford to focus all his attention on tonight’s huge FAI Cup semi-final against Bohemians at Dalymount Park (7.45pm).
But with all that’s riding on the televised clash — Rovers looking to take the penultimate step to ending 32 years of hurt in the competition they once dominated; standing in their way their most bitter Dublin derby rivals and Boh-gey boys — can Byrne and his fellow Hoops really treat this one as just another game?
“We should treat it as an opportunity to get to a cup final,” is the midfielder’s matter-of-fact response. “That’s basically what it is. It’s an opportunity to come to the Aviva on the third of November and really put down a marker to say that, yeah, we are on the right track. It’s been a good season for the club but we can make it a great season if we win on Friday.”
For a playmaker such as Byrne, a Rovers-Bohs clash presents different demands to most other games. High intensity is the polite way of billing a fixture which can also often be described as frantic, even manic.
“Yeah, they are, they’re Dublin derbies and the ball might not be on the grass for the whole game,” he concedes.
“But it might be for one or two big moments in the game when you can affect it. It doesn’t mean to say that you might run the game from the first minute to the last but you can certainly affect the game in different areas.
“Look, you’ll do what the game demands at different times and try and figure it out as the game’s going on. But I think we all know what it’s going to be like: It’s going to be a very tough game, it’s in Dalymount, they’re going to have all their fans well up for it and so will we. It’s going to be a hostile atmosphere but we’re looking forward to it.”
While Rovers’ bittersweet history in the competition is a matter of almost obsessive interest to the faithful, Byrne insists that it doesn’t weigh heavily on Stephen Bradley’s charges.
The only pity, he says, is that interest in the game means demand is far outstripping supply.
“Ah, stop, if I got 200 tickets I probably would have sold them,” he quips. “It’s a hard one, the ticket situation. Should it have been moved? Well, obviously, it wasn’t going to be moved to Tallaght, that would have been crazy, giving us home advantage. But somewhere, a middle ground. Here (The Aviva)? Yeah, a double header with Sligo and Dundalk, maybe them playing at 12 and us at 3, I think you would have got loads of bodies through the doors. I’m sure Bohs would have sold out Dalymount three or four times over and I’m sure Tallaght would have been a sell-out.
“But it is what it is and it’ll still be a great atmosphere.”