Saturday 26 May 2018

Irish clubs' €2m prize points to greater incentives

Kenny’s Dundalk are the big money-spinners
Kenny’s Dundalk are the big money-spinners

Seán Ryan

The past week has been a good one for the League of Ireland. It has seen three of its leading clubs earn a sum of €2.36m in UEFA prize money, the biggest windfall the League has ever experienced.

When Shamrock Rovers went all the way to the group stages of the Europa League five years ago, they won €1.6m. If they had managed to do the same this year, they would have doubled that.

All UEFA prize money took a big jump last season - and the League has just revealed that there is a further increase in store for this year's participants. The reward for each qualifying round of the Champions League has increased by €20,000, while in the Europa League, there is an extra €15,000 per qualifying round.

For first round Europa League losers, Shamrock Rovers, their reward is €215,000 instead of €200,000, while second round losers, St Patrick's Athletic, jump from €410,000 to €440,000.

Cork City, who face Genk in Belgium on Thursday (7.0) in the third round, have seen their earnings increase by €45,000 from €630,000 to €675,000. All very welcome, as PRO Eanna Buckley pointed out, "you can't gamble when it comes to your budgets, so we don't assume we'll get through a round. We have to be prudent, and allow for the minimum, which was €200,000, and everything above that is a bonus."

As Genk's second round qualifier in Montenegro against Podgorica went to a penalty shoot-out, Buckley watched alongside the club's travel agent, hoping for a Genk win. "At this time of the year, arranging a charter can be difficult," he explained. "For the game against Hacken, we were flying out on the Tuesday, but it was Friday before the plane was confirmed."

Champions Dundalk are, of course, the big money-spinners. Their away goals win over FH Hafnarfjordur has assured the club of a minimum €1,245,000, an increase of €45,000 from projected earnings.

They are playing for really big stakes against BATE Borisov in Belarus on Tuesday (7.0), as progress to the Champions League play-off stage is worth a minimum €4.6m even if defeated, comprising €2m for the play-off game, and a further €2.6m for being parachuted into the group stages of the Europa League.

Dundalk are at a disadvantage for this third qualifying round, as Oriel Park is deemed unsuitable. "The only alternatives were the Aviva Stadium or Tallaght Stadium," explained PRO Darren Crawley, "so we are playing our 'home' leg in Tallaght on August 2. It's a ground where we have a good record in recent times."

For the players of Dundalk and Cork City, these games offer the chance of making history, perhaps even joining Shamrock Rovers as teams that made the group stages of European club competitions. For the clubs' owners and treasurers, there is the hope that this season's money problems will be eased, even if they have to wait until November and December before the funds arrive from UEFA HQ.

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