O'Neill admits FAI Cup lowest priority for Hoops
A FIXTURE pile-up means that Shamrock Rovers are ready to sacrifice the competition closest to their hearts in order to keep their Europa League dreams on track.
The big nights against Tottenham Hotspur, PAOK and Rubin Kazan will come at a domestic cost as Michael O'Neill's squad deal with an average of one game every 3.5 days for the rest of the season if they progress in the FAI Cup, making the retention of their league title a difficult task.
Something has to give and that something will be the trophy most associated with the Hoops who have won it a record 24 times in their history, their last win coming in 1987.
O'Neill fielded a weakened team in Monday's draw with UCD and will continue to do so as the competition progresses.
The decision comes down to prize money after the FAI decided to slash the fund for both league and cup this season, meaning the €70,000 on offer for one point in the Europa League group stages is worth more than winning the entire FAI Cup with the Blue Ribband competition earning a paltry €50,000 in comparison.
Being taken to a replay with UCD next Monday night is a nightmare result for O'Neill's "tired" troops who now face as many as 20 matches in the next 10 weeks if they progress in the Cup.
While O'Neill is working to bring in new faces, defender Pat Flynn will be suspended for one domestic game after his red card on Monday night, while Ken Oman, Conor McCormack and Dean Kelly are currently on the treatment table and will all be included in the Europa League squad.
Rovers are hoping to be able to move the St Patrick's Athletic game, fixed for the Monday before they take on Rubin Kazan -- but the Saints are unlikely to be accommodating after they accused the Hoops of being inflexible when they were in the midst of their own Europa League run.
"We're going to have to prioritise and the Cup is our lowest priority, let's be honest," O'Neill admitted.
"It's unfortunate to say that, but we have massive amount of league games coming up. We have Sligo at home, St Pat's, which is likely to be the Monday before we play Rubin Kazan on the Thursday unless some leeway is given.
"Ideally, I wouldn't have to play it then, but if we don't we're looking at four games in a week. The Derry game has to be moved because of the EA Sports Cup. There is a possibility of playing four games in a week. Madness.
"Something's got to give, we're not going to be able to keep up the schedule with the number of bodies we have.
"The league is our priority because it gives us a route back into where we were last year. The European thing is a priority simply because the money on offer for picking up points in the European League is not on offer domestically.
"One point in the Europa League is worth more than winning the FAI Cup. If something is to fall by the wayside, it may be the FAI Cup, although we sincerely hope that wouldn't be the case."
Rovers' potential pile-up
Sat, Sept 3: LOI, Dundalk (a)
Mon, Sept 5: FAI, UCD (a)
Fri, Sept 9: LOI, Sligo Rvs (h)
Mon, Sept 12: LOI, St Pat's Ath (a)
Thurs, Sept 15: EL, Rubin Kazan (h)
Sun, Sept 18, FAI, Monaghan/Sligo* (a)
Sun, Sept 25, LOI, Bray Wdrs (a) (TBC)
Thurs, Sept 29, EL, Tottenham (a)
Mon, Oct 1, LOI, Drogheda (h)
Sat, Oct 8, LOI, Bray Wdrs (a)
Fri, Oct 14, FAI Cup semi-final*
Mon, Oct 17, LOI, Bohemians (h) (TBC)
Thurs, Oct 20: EL, PAOK Salonika (a)
Sun, Oct 23: LOI, UCD (a)
Fri, Oct 28: LOI, Galway United (h)
Thurs, Nov 3: EL, PAOK Salonica (h)
Sunday, Nov 6: FAI Cup final*
Wed, Nov 30: EL, Rubin Kazan (a)
Thurs, Dec 15: Tottenham (h)
League game v Derry City TBA.
*Should Shamrock Rovers progress