THEY may be attracting the biggest crowds in the league to their new home in Tallaght and enjoying the buzz of a title race but Shamrock Rovers have no plans to embrace full-time football because they don’t believe it is sustainable.
Hoops boss Michael O’Neill is irked by the suggestion that his team are full-time in everything but name as their expanded squad prepares for tomorrow’s sell-out Dublin derby with arch rivals and narrow League of Ireland leaders Bohemians.
Last week, Gypsies boss Pat Fenlon indicated that the money men at Dalymount Park have promised a budget which will maintain a full-time set-up next year.
However, Rovers will persist as they stand right now. At present, 30pc of their playing staff have jobs outside football, but O’Neill attributes that to the current economic climate rather than anything else.
The former Northern Ireland international – a qualified financial advisor, who worked with Ernst & Young and started his own mortgage company in between the end of his playing career and entering management – insists that his current employers have to be patient rather than making a jump too quickly.
“I don’t believe it’s sustainable (full- time) in this current climate,” he says. "People will argue that essentially we are full-time. I can assure you we are not. We’re going training at 5.30pm (last night) so we have to focus on the lads who are at work, to get them out early.
"At this moment in time, I’m not convinced the clubs can commit to full-time football in my view of what full-time football is, having experienced it in England and Scotland.
"We have the players together essentially from about 5.0 to 7.30 every day. Full-time football for me would be having the players in at 9.30 and in until 3.30 or 4.0 on certain days. Now, we have very little time to do video analysis, all of those things you would do if you were in a full-time structure.
“I think the model we have here is the model which suits the league at this minute in time. Going full-time for a year and continually being under threat financially isn’t really going full-time to be honest. It has to be done with a realistic five- to 10-year plan which you know is sustainable.”
Rovers chairman Jonathan Roche is singing off the same hymn sheet. With their current operation, the Hoops have an annual turnover which he estimates to be in the region of 1.3m with a 10pc increase expected in 2010.
“I think it would have to be a long-term thing,” he says of professionalism. "I think we’d be mad to jump into a full-time situation next year.
“We’d have to plan properly to make sure that the football club would get the full benefit of having a full-time squad and everything that comes from that. We’d be of the same mind that we build and we review the structure of the football club on an ongoing basis, so we can change that if circumstances change. But at the moment we’re quite happy with where we’re going.”
Anticipation is high in Tallaght ahead of tomorrow’s meeting with Bohs, who regained a one-point advantage at the top of the table with their win in Derry on Tuesday night.
All 6,000 tickets for the game were sold last Thursday, with the visitors receiving an allocation of 500. There will be a strong garda presence on the night, but Roche is anticipating no difficulties.