Hoops’ €350,000 travel bill a small price to pay for taking club to next level
THE last trip of Shamrock Rovers' European adventure starts this morning, a journey to Russia that will bring the distance travelled on this memorable run close to 14,000 miles, with an approximate travel cost of €350,000.
That's around €25 a mile, a worthy spend when you consider the League of Ireland champions should clear a seven-figure sum from their heroics in a ground-breaking year. In football terms, they have travelled much further.
Alas, the only problem for Michael O'Neill's men is that this week probably presents the sternest test yet in the shape of an in-form Rubin Kazan side on home soil.
The cash-rich outfit were far superior to the Hoops in September, although O'Neill will point out that his team came into that encounter on the back of a Premier Division game three days earlier.
It's a different problem now, with Rovers out of season, and Rubin still in session, and in good nick too after a 2-0 win over Dinamo Moscow at the weekend. They are fifth in the Russian league, and have lost just twice in 12. They know a victory over the Hoops would put one foot in the next round.
So, it's a daunting assignment for Rovers, who entered the group stages with realistic hopes of picking up lucrative points.
Those ambitions have dwindled over the course of four extremely difficult games, with home and away defeats to PAOK Salonika particularly disappointing.
The bigger picture, of course, is that it's all part of a learning curve for a side who have exceeded all expectations.
For everyone involved with the club, it's been a new experience. They could never have envisaged that their European commitment would last for six months, right up to the concluding visit of Spurs to Dublin 24 on December 15.
"There's been a lot of travel," admitted chairman Jonathan Roche yesterday. Hiring a plane for today's mammoth trip has cost €80,000, but the fare paid by 104 fans has reduced the burden.
Roche's air-mile quota for 2011 is even higher when you factor in trips to Nyon and Monaco for qualifying draws, the latter a last-minute dash from Belgrade.
The major issue with a view to 2012 is the future of O'Neill, but Roche was tight-lipped on that matter yesterday.
It's anticipated that the situation should become clearer next week, with the 42-year-old's plans revolving around the vacant post of Northern Ireland manager.
His thoughts are on Kazan this week, though, and he boards the plane today without the services of Scottish defender Craig Sives and Louth-born midfielder Conor McCormack. The latter sustained an injury in last week's fitness orientated friendly with Malmo in Sweden, another side who are yet to register a Europa League point.
Sives requires an operation on a groin problem, and it's possible he could have played his last game for the club with suggestions he is preparing to move home over the winter.
As it stands, the majority of the Rovers squad are unclear where they stand with a view to next year, although the Hoops are in a strong position to retain who they want provided there is no cross-channel interest.