Saints pay price to keep Euro dream on the road
AS the dust settles on another remarkable European success for St Patrick's Athletic, the players have learned that in part-time football, progress comes at a price.
With the League of Ireland entering a mid-season break, several of Pete Mahon's squad-members had booked holidays.
Instead, they will be preparing for a trip to Ukraine and a showdown with Karpaty Lviv -- a level of opposition a couple of notches above the teams from Iceland and Kazakhstan that the Saints have eliminated in an eventful Europa League campaign.
The holidays will be cancelled and, for those who are trying to balance the commitment of football with day jobs, it presents a serious difficulty.
Take, for example, midfielder Derek Doyle, who works in a warehouse.
Doyle, who is in "the doghouse" with his girlfriend after pulling the plug on a planned trip to Portugal tomorrow, scored the insurance goal in Thursday's elimination of Shakhter Karagandy.
"All my days off are gone now," he admitted. "I'll struggle for a holiday towards the end of the year. But the work has to come first."
Considering the Saints players are no longer earning big money, manager Pete Mahon believes that the club are honour-bound to foot the cost of any cancelled jaunts.
"The players are going to have to be reimbursed," said Mahon. "We have a situation where players are being forced to take three or four days off work for the third time and lads' holidays are eaten up.
"They have jobs and -- in this day and age -- I wouldn't ask any player to put his job in jeopardy over a football game."
The European ties are overlapping with the mid-season break because the FAI wanted to leave next weekend free to facilitate preparations for the Dublin Super Cup. That move has caused chaos.
"The FAI should have made a rule at the start of the season that clubs participating in Europe could have their game called off," claimed Mahon, whose team face Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds tonight.
After a 5,000km trip to Kazakhstan last week, which took its toll on the players, with a bug sweeping through the camp upon their return, the Ukraine journey is less problematic.
Lviv is situated close to the Polish border, so a flight to Krakow and a bus journey from there has been explored. Rzeszow is another option.
Sharing with Sligo -- who also play in the Ukraine on Thursday -- was discussed, but ultimately impractical.
The Bit O'Red had to make their own plans in advance and their opponents, Vorskla Poltava, are based in a completely different part of a vast country.
For Pat's, the incentive is to keep the tie alive against crack opposition, and bring them back to Dublin with their chances of advancing still alive.
Sadly, the return leg will be in Tallaght rather than Inchicore.
The Saints are now unbeaten in 10 European starts in their beloved home, but UEFA regulations mean that Richmond Park is unsuitable for the third round.
"It's disappointing," admitted Mahon.
"Still, if we keep the tie alive, we will get a big crowd up there. You never know in football."
Certainly, anyone involved with the Saints' European adventure has learned never to rule out the unexpected.
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