Seeded Hoops one of four sides angling for lucrative UEFA prize
To put the financial importance of European football for League of Ireland clubs into context, here’s a statistic for you.
The total prize money available to clubs from the FAI in the 2022 men’s League of Ireland season is €600,000.
Yet in this week alone, the three teams contesting the second legs of European ties are playing for a combined total of €1.2m, double the collective reward on offer to clubs in the Premier Division and First Division for slogging through an entire campaign.
It’s worth noting that €1.2m is an additional figure on top of the respective minimum fees for qualification. And there would be more on the line this week if St Patrick’s Athletic hadn’t received a bye to the second round of the Europa Conference League.
These tallies highlight how the battle for European places is the most intense aspect of the league season.
Furthermore, it stresses how it can widen the disparity between the haves and have-nots.
This is a problem being felt by leagues around the continent where the same faces appear year in and year out in continental competition because the funds they accrue there make them too strong in their locality.
We’ve experienced that here in Ireland too, although there’s a slight change to the European field this term as Dundalk miss out for the first time since 2013, a product of the chaotic mismanagement under their former ownership that managed to botch the competitive advantage they had created from repeated qualification.
The crown has now been passed onto Shamrock Rovers, who are now in prime position to capitalise and assert their dominance, especially as they have one foot in the next round of the Champions League. For the other European qualifiers, the prospects are less certain.
Here’s the state of the play for our qualifiers at this juncture and what they can reasonably expect to earn from their endeavours.
It’s a good time to be a domestic champion, especially if you can get yourself onto the seeded side of the Champions League draw, which is what the Hoops have managed to do as a consequence of qualifying for Europe for eight consecutive years and also a domino effect of Russian clubs not participating this term.
Before kicking a ball, Rovers knew they were guaranteed a €810,000 cheque from UEFA. But if they can finish the job against Hibernians in Malta tomorrow – and they really should given they hold a 3-0 first leg lead – then the guaranteed wedge bound for Tallaght increases to just over €1.4m.
That’s a considerable haul, although clubs do accumulate considerable costs as well. Rovers have paid a six figure sum on a charter to Malta, with issues in Dublin Airport also sending them on a circuitous route via Shannon
Player bonuses will also eat into rewards, so it’s not a case of the €1.4m being classified as profit. That said, with stadiums now fully opened, home European games offer revenues that can cancel off other expenses.
But the real excitement for Rovers is the doors opened by advancing beyond Hibernians. It guarantees them at least three more European ties – all of which should pack Tallaght – and they need to win just one of them to be sure of group stage football until December.
Put simply, if they get knocked out of the Champions League at the next hurdle, they get a crack at the Europa League and should they fail there, the backdoor is to the playoff round of the Europa Conference League.
Another 180-minute success across July and August will bring their minimum dividend of the UEFA prize pot to €3.3m.
The Bit’O’Red have a grim enough European record when it comes to progression and in 2021 they were the only Irish team to let the side down, losing to a poor Icelandic side. Last Thursday’s 2-1 win away to Welsh side Bala Town sets them up nicely for the return at The Showgrounds this week.
It was a slightly chaotic game on an artificial pitch and given that Rovers are a mid-table team this term and recently changed manager from Liam Buckley to rookie John Russell, then any kind of European run is a bonus.
They were assured of €150,000 for qualification for the Europa Conference League and then there’s another €100,000 on offer for every round a team plays in which is notionally to assist with the costs.
Wales was a good outcome from a travel perspective and if Russell’s team complete the job, they bank another €300,000.
SPFL side Motherwell lie in wait, another short hop that will be lucrative from the perspective of filling the home leg. With Russell’s men far from certain to qualify for Europe in 2023, making hay this year could be very important.
It’s looking bleak for Ruaidhri Higgins’ side after their tame 2-0 first leg defeat to Latvia’s Riga FC at the Brandywell.
He has refused to give up hope ahead of the decider, and a better pitch might play to his side’s strengths but they’ve made things unnecessarily difficult for themselves.
Riga was a tough draw by the standards of the earliest stage of the new competition, but it’s still a game that an in-form LOI side would fancy. Regrettably, Derry are in bad form right now.
They are financially well set thanks to the support of billionaire Philip O’Doherty, yet he will naturally want a return on his investment and Europe is the easiest way to deliver that.
As it stands, Derry are on course for the bare minimum fee of €250,000 unless they can pull it out of the bag in Riga and boost that to €550,000.
ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC
The Saints also benefited from the Russian expulsion as it paved the way for a bye to the second round of the Conference League.
It means they are assured of €450,000 rather than €250,000, yet entering at a later juncture does increase the prospects of their adventure being short and sweet.
They are expected to face Slovenian side Mura with the home leg on Thursday week already sold out.
Tim Clancy’s charges will need to hit a high level to collect another €300,000. Don’t be surprised if it sparks them back into life.