Hoops eager to 'wrap up' O'Neill deal
SHAMROCK Rovers chairman Jonathan Roche is confident the club can reach an agreement with Michael O'Neill on an extension to the manager's contract.
The former Northern Ireland international has yet to sign a new deal that has been on the table for much of the season, but his chairman says that they are close to coming to an arrangement.
Discussions will resume next week after O'Neill and his charges lift the Airtricity League trophy at Tallaght Stadium tomorrow night. The manager indicated that he would like to stay and was already planning for next season after his side's win over UCD that clinched back-to-back titles.
With Europa League group games set to run until December, the Hoops' players are all under contract until the end of the year, and Roche doesn't envisage much player turnover over the close season.
"We are confident he wants to stay and we have basically agreed it," Roche said. "Hopefully everything will be wrapped up in the next week or so.
"We'll get the week over first before discussing things. It's been really busy over the last two weeks. We were away last week in Greece, had a league decider Monday and then Tuesday (after the initial clash was postponed) and now we are planning our celebrations for Friday night at Tallaght.
"We can enjoy this week now. Now the pressure is off, we can plan for a party. We're hoping for a full house -- we're having a special Halloween night for our younger fans and it should be a good night for all Shamrock Rovers fans."
On the subject of player contracts, Roche added: "We're in a strong position -- the players are contracted until December and nobody wants to leave. Enda Stevens will leave for Aston Villa and he'll have to be replaced, but I don't see massive changes."
Now that they have claimed the €100,000 prize money for first place in the league, the Hoops can more than double their money next week as they return to European action.
After the final league clash comes the club's fourth Europa League group game at home to Greece's PAOK Salonika -- to whom they lost 2-1 away last week. Many observers believe the return match is Rovers' biggest opportunity to gain a result in their first appearance at this stage of a European competition. A win would be worth a further €140,000 to them, a draw €70,000.
With their European exploits this season already worth €1m to the club, Roche insists the group stages are bonus territory and a result is not the priority as long as the club learns from the experience.
"We can enjoy playing PAOK now -- if we hadn't won the league it would have taken the gloss off it a bit," he said.
"The club and the team have worked hard for this. We are building something. Over every one of our European games we have played better, we have improved and we have learned. We were never going in expecting to beat teams in the group stages. It is about learning.
"I don't think that in the general Irish sphere the size of our achievement has been recognised; people don't appreciate what we're up against.
"PAOK might not be a well-known club in Ireland, but they are a big club. Their budget is €15-16m. That is bigger than anything in this country in any sport, and they are treating us as equals.
"Winning the league has given us a better chance of doing it again because of the route back in."