Euro spot a must as Rovers face 'biggest game of the year'
A PHOTO circulated last week of the Manchester United players out for a meal, with no TV in sight, on a night when their rivals Manchester City were in Champions League action.
After two successive summers where his club were not involved in Europe, Shamrock Rovers winger Gary McCabe knows the feeling, especially as his club's ground was used as a home venue by rivals St Patrick's Athletic in their most recent Euro campaign.
That's why tonight's Dublin derby away to St Patrick's Athletic, a key game for the Hoops if they are to finish third and guarantee European qualification, is such a vital fixture for Pat Fenlon's side.
Having dropped points away to Bohemians in midweek, Rovers now face a tough task an even if the Hoops win in Inchicore tonight, Pats will still be four points ahead.
Of course the two Dublin rivals could still qualify for Europe via the FAI Cup, the odds after the semi-final draw favouring a Rovers-Pats final in November (though of course Derry City and Finn Harps have other ideas).
But McCabe, a veteran of Rovers' Europa League group stage campaign in 2011, does not want to have that European spot still in the balance on Cup final day and has his sights on third spot.
"I have personally found it very hard to take, not being in Europe over the last two years," says McCabe.
"Having played in those big matches in the Europa League, Spurs and Rubin Kazan and all the other matches that season, to be out of Europe for two whole years was not nice. I couldn't even bring myself to go to the Pats match against Legia Warsaw here in Tallaght, it would have been too hard to go. I wanted to go as I have friends in that Pats team and I'd like to have seen them but the thoughts of being in Tallaght, hearing the Champions League music when your own club is not involved is too much so I just watched on TV.
"I can't speak for the other players but for me, that experience has made me even more determined to get Rovers back into Europe, for a club of this size to be out of Europe three years running would not be good," added McCabe.
"We are still trying to get into Europe via the league. Third spot is still there and up for grabs, though it will take a strong finish to the season for us to do that, especially with our next matches against Pats and Dundalk but this one tonight is one of the biggest games of the season for us, if we don't get the three points the rest of the league will be a real struggle.
"Our mind is on the Cup as well, we have a home draw in the semi-finals against Derry and that's something to look forward to, but the league is also a big deal for us.
"Pats tonight is a tough game for us now, especially as we had a hard game away to Bohs on Tuesday. We had a few knocks and bruises after the Bohs game so the manager might have to freshen things up for tonight," added McCabe. One of the longest-serving players at the club with four years' service, McCabe is out of contract at the end of the season but is keen to stay on. "I have spoken to Pat Fenlon, I have had great times and I don't want to leave," he says. Rovers looked "sluggish" in the words of manager Fenlon on Tuesday night as they had to come from a goal down to earn a draw, thanks to a late penalty.
"We weren't great on Tuesday so we got a bit of luck with the penalty," says McCabe. "We were lucky to get a point on the night but we know know what we have to do and we all have to up our standards tonight."