Rovers ready for unexpected pre-season trip to sunny India
The players and staff of Shamrock Rovers will gather at Dublin Airport this morning for the start of a warm weather pre-season trip to India which will give Pat Fenlon bonus time with his squad.
Rovers will travel via Dubai to the coastal city of Kozhikode - in the south west of the country - for the Sait Nagjee Amarsee International tournament, a competition that has been revived after a 21-year absence.
Rovers manager Fenlon was contacted by an agent he knows to let him know that there was a place available in the eight-team tournament, with all expenses paid by the organisers.
The Hoops are the only senior side competing, with an array of U-23 teams making up the international field. They are in a group with Ukrainian side FC Volyn, a young selection from 1860 Munich and, intriguingly, the team that will represent Argentina at the Olympics.
There is a $30,000 prize available for the overall winners of a competition but that is secondary to benefit of training in excellent conditions and locking horns with high-calibre opponents ahead of the new Airtricity League campaign in March.
If Fenlon needed convincing of that, the impact of the wind on yesterday's training session in the AUL brought it home.
Asked if the surprise jaunt was a gamble, the Dubliner joked: "If you were out in the AUL this morning you'd think that was a bleedin' gamble trying to train in that!
"With cones and that flying around and planes going over your head and the wind howling, it's difficult to work.
"At least now we'll get a bit of time, twice a day on the pitch training. They were the main reasons for going for me - the games and being able to get a bit of time in decent conditions."
Former Shelbourne defender Dave Rogers, who played under Fenlon, is now based in India, working with the Liverpool academy in addition to helping out with the national side, and he has offered a positive bulletin on the quality of facilities.
Even if Rovers get knocked out at the group phase, they have an option to stay out for a total of three weeks if they are happy.
"You've got to be open-minded to this sort of stuff. It's an opportunity of a lifetime," said Fenlon, who has memories of visiting Libya and Iran on unusual trips during his playing days. A joint St Pat's/Bohs team went to Libya in 1989 before the Saints went to Iran a year later.
Rovers are bringing 21 players on this trip. A family bereavement has ruled out Stephen Elliott, the ex-Irish international striker, who has been training with the club.