Tuesday 23 January 2018

Hoops to get chilly reception


DAN MURRAY will be making his 34th European club appearance when he lines out for Shamrock Rovers against Rubin Kazan in their penultimate Europa League tie in Kazan on Wednesday (5.0 Irish time). That's a huge total compared to that achieved by League of Ireland players in the past, but it is still five short of the record of 39 set by his former Cork and Hoops team-mate, Ollie Cahill.

However, Rovers have been setting lots of records, not least the fact that the Rubin game is their 11th in Europe this season, surpassing the record of eight set by Shelbourne in 2004.

That was the same year that Murray (pictured) made his European debut for Cork City in the old Inter-Toto Cup -- against Malmo -- with Cork winning both legs for a 4-1 aggregate. Last Wednesday, Rovers prepared for Kazan with a visit to Malmo, but this time the Swedish club won 2-0.

"It was great preparation," said Hoops' CEO Jonathan Roche. "They are like us, they have finished their season, and are at the bottom of their group with no points, but they only finished fourth in their league and have missed out on Europe for next year. They are going mad about that. FC Copenhagen took their manager, Roland Nilsson, in July."

The Tallaght club's players and fans -- there will be 100 of them in Russia this week -- will have travelled over 30,000 miles in their European odyssey. Kazan is 600 miles east of Moscow and, with a four-hour time difference, the game starts at 9.0pm local time.

"It was minus 15 degrees there yesterday," said Roche, "and with this game late at night who knows what it will be like on Thursday." Rovers fly out on Tuesday, and will return straight after the game.

Two players missing out are centre-back Craig Sives, who is undergoing surgery in Leicester on Friday, and midfielder Conor McCormack, who was injured in the friendly against Malmo on Wednesday but hopes to be fit for the final Europa League game at home to Tottenham on December 15.

Seven of the Rovers' squad go into Thursday's game on one yellow card -- Pat Sullivan, Enda Stevens, Stephen O'Donnell, Ronan Finn, Gary McCabe, Billy Dennehy and Karl Sheppard -- so another indiscretion would cause them to miss the Spurs game.

The extended season has kept all the players under contract until December 15, with some of them already contracted for next year, unlike their counterparts in most of the other Airtricity League clubs.

The future of manager Michael O'Neill has also to be settled. "We have had our discussions," said Roche, but O'Neill has admitted that if he got the offer to manage Northern Ireland he wouldn't turn it down. Roche expects the matter to be sorted before the game against Tottenham.

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