Former Shamrock Rovers striker Karl Sheppard admits that his old club face a tough task as they begin their travels in the Europa Conference League but he remains hopeful the Hoops can contend in a tricky group.

They began with a 0-0 draw against Djurgardens of Sweden in Tallaght last week and are away to Belgian side Gent tonight

"It's an extremely tight group," Sheppard told RTÉ Sport. "Gent are certainly no mugs. They are a very good team and so are Molde.

"You are going up against leagues that have better infrastructure, more money and, realistically, better players.

"So Shamrock Rovers will be up against it. But the result and the performance against Djurgardens will give them the confidence to say 'We will belong here’.

"Tonight is about going out and stamping their authority on the game because they don’t have a great away record in Europe under Stephen Bradley."

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Sheppard thought the Irish champions could have edged their group opener and hopes they won't live to rue the scoreless draw with Djurgardens, which was coincidentally also the score between Gent and Molde.

"In the group stage, you do have to make sure that you win your home games," he said. "When you go away it is that bit tougher.

"It was a very tight game and they did have chances to go on and win it. But I do think the draw was probably a fair result.

"Djugardens are a good side but it might be one that they look back on two or three games down the line and say 'We probably should have gone for that a little bit more'. But it's understandable that they would be a little bit more nervous going up against that extra bit of quality, in terms of going for the victory."

Sheppard (10) hits the net in the 2011 Europa League

Rovers are already up on their previous European group-stage adventure, which ended pointless in 2011. But Sheppard scored in the 2-1 defeat to PAOK in Greece and the 31-year-old - who was forced to retire last year - recalls the trips to there, Tottenham and Russian side Rubin Kazan as standout experiences of his time in football.

"In the League of Ireland, you might be away at Finn Harps or something and it may not be the most glamorous tie but this is the one that makes you feel like a real professional player," he said.

"You’re going away to big stadiums, the best hotels, you’re being looked after unbelievably. But with that then comes the added nerves and you do have to channel that energy.

"It’s something you have maybe built up for the last few years, these are the big games you want to play and you maybe only get 10-20 throughout your career.

"You just have to make sure that you focus that built-up energy, and in all your preparation, when travelling and in the hotel beforehand, that you’re doing everything you can to give yourself the best opportunity to play.

"When you get into the stadium and onto the pitch, it’s just making sure that you start well and control those nerves."

Follow live updates of Gent v Shamrock Rovers on on RTÉ.ie and the News Now app from 5.30pm