From Killarney to Kazan November 6, 2011Posted by irishelectionliterature in Sport.
Tags: shamrock rovers
Today sees the last act of the Domestic Season as Shelbourne and Sligo Rovers battle it out for the FAI Cup in Lansdowne Road. Of Course Rovers still have two games left in their European adventure…
A season that started on the 1st of February with a friendly game in Kerry against Killarney Celtic ends on December 15th with a Europa League clash against Tottenham Hotspur in Tallaght. In between the club have won the Setanta Cup for the first time, the League for the seventeenth time and made history as the first Irish club to qualify for the group stages of a European Competition and all done without breaking the bank or putting the future of the club in jeopardy.
In short its been an incredible achievement.
The other night in Tallaght , my son and I saw Rovers lift the title. It was my eleven year olds second time seeing Rovers lift the title in the flesh and it was my third time seeing them lift the title (apart from winning the first division down in Cobh).
It really has been the best season ever. The first real season where going to domestic games I had an expectation, rather than a hope, that Rovers would win. That night in Belgrade will live long in the memory of every Hoop and the European adventure has brought Rovers to the attention of football fans all over the world. Indeed the largest TV audience ever for a League of Ireland team was Rovers game against Spurs where almost a million people tuned into TV3 at some stage during the match. Strangely enough it hasn’t got them flocking to Tallaght in huge numbers yet with both the Kazan and PAOK games failing to sell out.
However we are now known more at home and abroad , via live broadcasts and the highlights show of the Europa League. Another positive from all the exposure is that I’m no longer greeted with ‘Up Celtic’ when I’m wearing my Rovers shirt.
The Europa League has shown us the huge gap there is between Rovers and the clubs we are trying to compete with on a European Level. Whilst Rovers players are good, there’s a reason they are playing for Rovers and not at a much bigger club in the UK or beyond. PAOK would have average attendances around the 20,000 mark, an annual budget of €20 million or so and players worth over 20 million. Rubin Kazan backed by oil money would have an average attendance of 13,000 and an annual budget of around €30 million. Spurs budget would be multiples of that and an average attendance of over 36,000 . There would be a lot of players at some of those clubs earning far more than Rovers annual budget.
Given the club has almost disappeared before, Rovers wont be throwing mad money at players to attract them. Instead the money being made from the Europa league will be reinvested in Training facilities for both the first team and underage teams in Kiltipper. In time players will go through the Youth Academy and hopefully provide a conveyor belt to the first team and beyond. If some of the local footballing talent can be kept at home and developed rather than going to England at an early age then both the players and Rovers will profit.
There is still uncertainty about manager Michael O’Neills future but he is supposed to be signing a new contract. On the playing side Enda Stevens is off to Aston Villa in January for a decent fee and the fear is that others may follow to earn better money over in the UK. Most players would have been on part-time 42 week contracts, because of the European involvement these had to be extended. Hopefully the board managed to get some players to sign longer contracts and that the talent such as Ryan Thompson, Craig Sives, Conor McCormack and Karl Sheppard don’t get tempted away (or at least without Rovers getting a decent fee). It will be interesting to see if recent signings Jim Patterson and Rohan Ricketts hang around after the season ends.
O’Neill’s transfer policy has seen Rovers look outside the usual League of Ireland merry go round. With Rovers now known on the wider European stage it may well attract a higher calibre of player who is trying to get noticed.
To finish off the season it would be fantastic to even see Rovers get a point or three from their remaining two Europa League Games….. Gary Twigg scoring a late winner against Spurs would do me just fine