Saturday 21 April 2018

O'Neill braced for gruelling schedule

Garry Doyle

The trouble with holidaying regularly in Europe is the resentment it causes with your noisy neighbours.

So just when Shamrock Rovers felt it was safe to look forward to Thursday's historic Europa League group stage opener against the Russian side, Rubin Kazan, their focus has been deflected by yet another domestic squabble.

Tonight the defending League of Ireland champions travel to Inchicore to meet St Patrick's Athletic, three days after they lost two men to red cards and three points to Sligo Rovers in a game which could ultimately prove decisive in this fascinating domestic season.

As things stand, Rovers remain in the driving seat, a point adrift of leaders Derry City, but with a game in hand. Yet given their ongoing European commitments, plus the additional headache of the FAI Cup, fatigue is certain to become an issue sooner rather than later.

"The biggest problem we have is that we cannot begin our preparations for a European game until Tuesday, and essentially, Tuesday is a recovery day," said the Rovers manager Michael O'Neill.

"The fixture schedule is ludicrous. We just have to get on with life because we are getting no assistance. From now until the end of the season we have to play every three days or so.

"Our rival clubs -- Sligo, St Pat's, Derry and Bohs -- don't have to worry about focusing on Europe. We do. The title is going down to the wire."

That is what Pete Mahon, the St Patrick's Athletic manager, hopes for. Having dismissed his club's chances of challenging for the championship two weeks ago, events have since conspired to put them right back into the race and victory tonight will move Pat's level on points with their Dublin rivals.

"I still think the title will be decided by the two Rovers," said Mahon. "Yes, Shamrock Rovers are involved in this almighty fixture pile-up, but that is what we had to deal with during our European campaign and what Rovers have to accept now."

St Patrick's Ath v Shamrock Rovers,

Live, Setanta Ireland, 8.0

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport