Sport Soccer

Thursday 26 April 2018

Hoops eye Europa cash prize


WHEN Shamrock Rovers line out against Partizan Belgrade in the second leg of their Europa League play-off tie in Belgrade on Thursday, they will be playing for a prize of over €1m, plus a share of the Europa League's TV pool.

So far, the Hoops have earned €560,000 from their Champions League and Europa League exploits, but advancement to the group stages of the Europa League offers them the chance to double their money.

Victory over Partizan would see the League of Ireland champions qualify for a €640,000 participation bonus. They would then earn €60,000 for each of the six group games they would play, plus €70,000 for each draw and €140,000 for each win at that stage.

Rovers have had to pay an average of €50,000 for each away trip, but they have been well supported in their three home games, with a total of 15,000 in attendance. As the club's season tickets do not include European games, these are healthy figures for the Tallaght club.

Of course, the club they have to overcome is one of Europe's heavyweights. They completed a four-in-a-row of Serbian titles last season and, despite losing all their games in the group stages of the Champions League, they earned over €8m from the TV rights alone.

They sold some of their better players in the past year, and yet they fielded eight internationals in the thrilling 1-1 draw in the Tallaght Stadium last Thursday.

Despite the disparity in economics between the club, the vibes emanating from the Shamrock Rovers management and players after Thursday's game were all of the positive variety. They may be facing a difficult second leg, but they do so backed by a strong CV from previous away games.

As manager Michael O'Neill reminded us: "We faced a similar situation in Israel last year and won 1-0, so there are a lot of positives that the players can bring to Belgrade." He also added his favourite mantra: "We now know where we can hurt them."

Left-back Enda Stevens drew on the Hoops' experience against FC Copenhagen in the Champions League qualifier last month: "Over in Copenhagen we did so well their fans booed them off at the end."

He will also be travelling to Belgrade full of hope from his head to the toes of his boots: "When we changed formation at half-time, to the diamond they (Partizan) were playing, we could have won it. We dominated most of the second half.

"They tired just before the half-time whistle and, apart from the first 10 to 15 minutes of the second half, they kept dropping back and dropping back. So we'll be going there with a lot of confidence. We know what they're about, we just have to pick our passes, we can't give away cheap possession."

O'Neill's formula for away games in Europe certainly makes things difficult for the opposition. Even mighty Juventus last year had to depend on a spectacular strike from a free kick by Alessandro Del Piero to scrape a 1-0 win.

One of the principal lessons he has learned, O'Neill said, is that "for us to compete at this level it will always be a 14-man game." It was his judicious use of substitutes Chris Turner, Gary O'Neill and Ciarán Kilduff, which helped turn the tide against Partizan.

For Thursday's game, he expects to have experienced midfielder Stephen O'Donnell fit again, while this evening's game against Galway United in Terryland Park (6.30) offers him the opportunity to run the rule over players like Karl Sheppard and Karl Moore, who were unused subs last Thursday, but may have a role to play in the second leg.

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