Irish eyes not smiling on Euros

Euro mission: Cork City manager John Caulfield

Aidan Fitzmaurice

The road to Champions League glory and riches has become a lot tougher for League of Ireland clubs after UEFA announced a shake-up of the competition.

And that leaves Europa League football as the most likely route for clubs from nations like Ireland as those in power are more eager to see clubs from the major leagues of Europe play in the Champions League.

One minor change will see a switch in kick-off times for group games in the competition, with fixed times of 5.55pm or 8pm, along the lines of the Europa League.

But a concern for LOI outfits will be the more punishing route to the group stages.

From now on, four teams from the countries with the highest UEFA coefficients - at present that's Spain, England, Germany and Italy - will have four guaranteed places in the group stage, so the side which finishes fourth in the Premier League will no longer have to navigate the pesky qualifying round but will be pushed straight into the group phase.

The next batch of counties will get one guaranteed slot in the Champions League (Russia, Portugal, Ukraine, Belgium, Turkey, Czech Republic, Switzerland).

The changes make it a real dogfight at the bottom end and in essence, the League of Ireland champions will be among the 41 clubs competing for four places in the group phase.

Cork City will enter the qualifying round of the competition next summer but, in a change to format, they will get a back door entry into the Europa League if they lose at the first hurdle.

Last summer, Dundalk were knocked out of the Champions League by Rosenborg but had no route to the Europa League.

Next year's final will be played in Madrid.