Tuesday 12 December 2017

Financial rewards key to O'Neill's Euro drive


ACCORDING to Shamrock Rovers' manager, Michael O'Neill, they have a different way of approaching Champions League matches in Estonia than we do here. While the Hoops have played four games since the draw was made, their opponents in Tuesday's second qualifying round at Tallaght Stadium (8.0), Flora Tallinn, have only played once.

"They cancelled three games in preparation for this game," he said, "and the one game they played, which I had arranged to see, was then switched from last Saturday to Sunday so I couldn't go."

Not to be outdone, O'Neill contacted former Hoop, Shane Robinson, now playing in Finland with FC Haka, and he made the short journey across to Estonia and submitted a match report. O'Neill is also waiting on a DVD of the game.

The emphasis which Tallinn are placing on this game is easy to understand when the financial rewards for victory are explained. The winner of this Champions League second qualifying round is guaranteed a minimum of €330,000, which would be a massive boost to either club's budget.

This is made up of €130,000 for winning a round of the competition, plus a bonus of €200,000, which is given to champion clubs that don't qualify for the group stages. By winning the third qualifying round, the winners of this tie would earn a minimum of €550,000, made up of another €130,000, plus a place in the play-off round for the Europa League, which is worth €90,000.

With the president of the Tallinn club also being the president of the Estonian FA, the club's demands for fixture postponements obviously get a sympathetic hearing, whereas in the Airtricity League the fixture list has less room to manoeuvre due to the length of the season agreed by the clubs. The present summer season is shorter than the original winter season and, ideally, would need another four weeks for the number of games that are being played.

The original idea of the summer season was to give clubs in Europe a realistic chance of making progress. This has worked, but now that most players are part-time, there is need for a re-appraisal or Irish players won't be as fresh as they should be when the games come around.

Shamrock Rovers' experience last week is a good example. "Our focus all week was on Derry," said O'Neill yesterday. "And we only got back at two in the morning, so we gave the players the day off. That means we have just two days' preparation for the Champions League game."

The Estonian champions are also full-time and in mid-season. "There is no advantage for us there, and their preparation has been better than ours. However, I believe we can go through. It's our first time in the Champions League, and the financial rewards are good too."

Meanwhile, Bohemians and St Patrick's Athletic play in Slovenia and Kazakhstan respectively on Thursday in the Europa League second qualifying round. As both teams were due to meet in the Airtricity League next weekend, they have agreed to postpone that game in order to give themselves the best preparation for the return leg games, which are both going ahead on Thursday week in Dublin at the same time (7.45).

Apparently, UEFA only allow for a change if there is a security risk and none of the clubs involved were in that bracket.

Shamrock Rovers will play Drogheda United in between the two legs of their tie with Tallinn, and were also unable to arrange a direct flight. "We have to go via Stockholm," explained O'Neill. "It's not straightforward at this time of year for a party of 40."

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