Shamrock Rovers manager Michael O’Neill’s impressive time with the Hoops has earned him a reputation as one of the hottest properties in British management but he says that he is only focused on gaining as many points as possible from the club’s remaining Europa League fixtures.
The visit of Greek side PAOK to Tallaght looks to be the newly crowned champions’ best chance of getting any points in their landmark season in Europe.
Despite losing 2-1, last month’s game against the Greek side was an encouraging performance and with a fervent Tallaght crowd behind them they may be able to fully close the gap in class.
With only Gary Twigg doubtful and no domestic duties to distract them chairman Jonathon Roche says Rovers will be able to give it their all against PAOK.
“We can enjoy playing PAOK now – if we hadn’t won the league it would have taken the gloss off it a bit,” he said in an interview with the Irish Independent.
“The club and the team have worked hard for this. We are building something. Over every one of our European games we have played better, we have improved and we have learned. We were never going in expecting to beat teams in the group stages. It is about learning.”
Unlike Rovers PAOK travel to Dublin with a number of injuries, including Serbian striker Vladimir Ivic who was instrumental in Greece two weeks ago.
Despite the very real prospect of a historic win on the cards the occasion has been overshadowed by persistent talk of O’Neill’s future at the club and though his contract expires after this round of games O’Neill insists he is going nowhere.
“The progress at Rovers has been great, but there’s still so much more that can be done with the club”, he said.
“Hopefully over the next few weeks, we can find a resolution to the contract situation.”
Roche too is hoping that O’Neill extents his time at the club and bring more big European nights to Tallaght Stadium.
“I don’t think that in the general Irish sphere the size of our achievement has been recognised; people don’t appreciate what we’re up against.
“PAOK might not be a well-known club in Ireland, but they are a big club. Their budget is 15-16million euros. That is bigger than anything in this country in any sport, and they are treating us as equals.
“Winning the league has given us a better chance of doing it again because of the route back in.”