Wednesday 13 December 2017

Defeat leaves Bohs jumping through financial hoops

Cash is king in Irish football and the balance of power has now shifted to Tallaght and Shamrock Rovers, writes Seán Ryan

FIVE years ago, Shamrock Rovers owed €2.36m and just avoided being put into liquidation by Judge Peter Kelly. The court opted instead for an interim examinership, during which a deal was cobbled together with the Revenue Commissioners, who were owed over €500,000 and who had instituted the proceedings, and the club was saved.

Taken over by the supporters, theirs was no instant success story, for the Hoops were relegated from the Premier Division that same season -- the first relegation in their history -- although they made it back at the first time of asking in 2006.

Meanwhile, with the advantage of full-time players, Rovers' great rivals, Shelbourne and Bohemians, carved up the honours -- and the ancillary European glory nights. For Hoops' fans, who had been reared on success, those years were a torment.

However, last week a significant shift occurred in the balance of power within the Airtricity League, when Bohemians were trounced 4-0 at TNS in the Champions League, and Rovers beat Bnei Yehuda 1-0 in Tel Aviv to advance to a lucrative Europa League meeting with Italian giants Juventus in Tallaght Stadium on Thursday.

Ever since, the recriminations within the Bohemians camp have been loud and strident, for they had every right to expect to overcome a Welsh team which was only in pre-season training, and which had no European form. Questions have been asked about the club's ability to sustain its players' full-time status and, while this is secure for the present season, it seems a change is inevitable.

Financially, the club is not a basket case, but that could change soon enough for, in two years' time, they are due to begin repayments to Zurich Bank on a €4m loan secured on the car park on the Connacht Street side of their ground. The car park is currently leased to the Mater Hospital.

As part of the FAI's salary cost protocol, clubs are not allowed to include likely earnings from Europe or domestic competitions in the budgets they submit for approval. The only prize money they can include is the €40,000 given to the last placed team in the Premier Division. As a result, prize money is used going forward.

Bohemians' finances are underpinned by their major asset, Dalymount Park. They have two deals lined up, either one of which will see them move to a new stadium, with enough money to pay their debts and secure their future. Deal A is with Liam Carroll's company Danninger, in which a 10,000-seater stadium in Harristown would be built and the club would receive €38m in cash. Bohs have already received in the region of €2.6m from Danninger.

Due to Liam Carroll's current difficulties with NAMA, this deal may not now go ahead, and in that event, Deal B would come into play. This is with Pascal Conroy, developer of the Phibsborough Shopping Centre, and would see the club move to a new stadium off the M50 and receive up to €20m. Both deals have been approved by the members.

In Pat Fenlon's successful reign as manager, the players' wage bill has been cut from €1.9m to €1m. Players signed this year are receiving €700 a week and, significantly, this is less than Shamrock Rovers are paying their top players, who are receiving €800 to €900.

However, Bohs still have the bigger wage bill because a number of players are on old contracts worth up to €2,000 a week. Once these expire, they are unlikely to be renewed on anything like the same terms. Fenlon did well to attract the quality players he did this year with the restrictions to his budget, but his worry must be that his rival at Rovers, Michael O'Neill, will be able to trump him from now on.

The attraction for players signing for Bohs was the club's ability to win trophies and compete in Europe, but Rovers, with the extra funds generated from this Europa campaign, are in a position to invest in players as they go in search of a first league title since 1994.

O'Neill has already hit the jackpot with signings from north and south -- goalkeeper Alan Mannus (Linfield and Northern Ireland) and Thomas Stewart (Derry City) and Dan Murray and Danny Murphy (Cork City), while overseas acquisitions, Craig Sives and Gary Twigg, both from Scottish clubs, have also proved a great success.

With that record in the transfer market, the Rovers board are unlikely to have any hesitation in encouraging O'Neill to dip in again even if he needs another player or two for the run-in to the League.

Fenlon, on the other hand, would have to sell in order to add to his squad, and it's only going to get harder next season, as the club contemplates what many members see as an inevitable return to part-time players. As one veteran member put it to me: "If you want full-time football, people have to come through the turnstiles, and that's not happening."

Despite playing a more attractive brand of football than their Tallaght rivals, Bohs have seen their gate receipts drop, while the crowds in Tallaght have been healthy all season.

O'Neill's pragmatic approach is paying dividends -- and the pressure is mounting on his rivals. A league title would confirm that the balance of power has shifted to the Southside.

Sunday Independent

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