Monday 18 December 2017

Hoops refusing to take 'stupid' risks in push to join Euro elite

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

golfer Ernie Els describes this time of the year as 'wheelbarrow time', a chance to cash in when the business end of the season is completed.

For Shamrock Rovers, the mission entering the final three games of the Europa League is something similar.

Of course, there is huge professional pride at stake for Michael O'Neill and his players, especially as these games are beamed across the continent. However, the bigger picture for the club is that positive results will add to the substantial revenue they have already accrued from their wonderful European adventure.

Realistically, the visit of PAOK Salonika to Tallaght this evening offers the best chance of the €70,000 boost for a draw or the €140,000 bonanza for a win. The Hoops were closer to getting a result in Greece than they were in the jousts with Rubin Kazan and Tottenham.

Naturally, O'Neill is reluctant to engage in such talk, given that the financial gap between the League of Ireland champions and the other teams in the group is so vast that they cannot afford to view any opponent as some kind of comparative soft touch.


Exuberant players tend to avoid diplomacy though. "This is the best chance," said midfielder Gary McCabe. "We can definitely take something from the game," added Karl Sheppard.

Their manager is grounded in realism, however, and he has stressed that the approach for this game will be similar to practically every other game on this journey. In other words, a 4-5-1 that sets out with the intention of keeping the game scoreless for as long as possible.

With the league season now finished and Rovers trying to mix time off around preparations for the remaining three European games that are spread out over the next six weeks, minds have to focus towards next year.

Every cent earned will help the club long term, though O'Neill acknowledges it won't generate the type of cash that will entitle the Hoops to think about making this step on an annual basis.

"To compete at this level and to continually do so takes money," he says.

"The Europa League is filled with teams who spend money trying to get to the Champions League. We, as a club, are not going to do anything stupid -- we won't say we will spend this or that much to get to the Champions League. Our model could not sustain that.

"I hope the players learn from the experience and are more equipped to deal with it in the future. But it's not something you can build your financial model around."

Still, the desire to get on the board is strong. They were knocking on the door in Thessaloniki so the expectation ahead of this evening is understandable.

PAOK owned the ball for large periods a fortnight ago, yet both goals were from distance and they didn't seem entirely comfortable on the back foot.

If Billy Dennehy and McCabe get the nod to start, it will be a positive statement. Concerns about the fitness of Gary Twigg mean Sheppard could continue up front. He caused problems for PAOK's coach Laszlo Boloni. The affable Romanian arrived in Dublin without four key players as they search for the win that would put them in a strong position in Group A and ease the pressure after a poor run of domestic results.

Defender Pablo Contreras was injured in their weekend defeat to Panathinaikos, while Pablo Garcia, Vladimir Ivic and Stefanos Athanasiadis are out.

Boloni admitted his team are favourites and shrugged off the suggestion that he might be fearful about what lies in store.

"I am afraid about my mother if she has problems or about my daughter when she is driving, but football is a game," he said. "I am sure if we do everything right, we will be happy afterwards."

Their hosts have other ideas.

Shamrock Rovers (probable) -- Thompson; Sullivan, Murray, Sives, Stevens; Rice, O'Donnell, McCormack; McCabe, Dennehy; Sheppard.

PAOK (probable) -- Chalkias; Etto, Cirillo, Malezs, Lino; Arias, Fotakis, Lazar; Vieirinha, Salpigidis; Papazoglou.

Rovers v PAOK,

Live, 3e, 6.0

Irish Independent

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