Shamrock Rovers manager Pat Fenlon is delighted with the way his side's pre-season has gone as the Hoops enjoy an extended stay in India, having reached the semi-finals of the Nagjee Cup in Kerala.
Rovers were invited to participate in the tournament and shocked many by progressing from their group to the last four with victories over the 1860 Munich Under-21 team and the Argentina U-23 national squad.
Fenlon’s side will now take on Brazillian side Atletico Paranaense for a place in the final, which would see the Hoops take on either Dnipro or Watford in Sunday’s showpiece.
The Hoops pre-season tour is now in its 17th day since leaving for Kerala on 1 February and aside from progressing in the tournament, Fenlon is very happy with the training opportunities and quality of opposition, which he believes has proved the perfect preparation for the start of the upcoming SSE Airtricity League season.
"Coming here was two-fold for us; it’s getting away from the weather in Dublin and the quality of the opposition,” said Fenlon, speaking to 2fm’s Game On.
“We played Dnipro, Argentina's Under-23 squad and 1860 Munich. And now we play a Brazilian club side in the semi-final.
“So the competition has been fantastic from our point of view. From a fitness point of view it has been very warm during the games, 28-30 degrees, 75-80% humidity, so it’s been difficult for the players but we have got stronger as the tournament has gone on.”
The now-extended trip has brought real positives for the manager as he feels the length of time spent together has helped the new players settle into the squad.
“We have been able to get some quality training sessions in here and to get the players to gel together, as we have a few new players in. When you come away for a couple of weeks, you get to know each other fairly well so it’s been great from that point of view as well.
“And the players can get out and about and get a look at the place as we are in the middle of the city so they can keep themselves occupied.”
Rovers were due to play Cabinteely in a pre-season friendly on Friday night but Fenlon believes that this tournament has provided the perfect preparation to challenge for this season's league title.
“The games that we have played should hopefully have brought the players on leaps and bounds in relation to their match sharpness and fitness.”
“We have been able to work them really hard in the days that we have had off as well. We’re hoping that we are going to get big benefits but we won’t really know until the season starts. I’ve taken teams away before and it’s always gone quite well, and hopefully this is no different.”
"We’re happy with the squad. We don’t have any more money to do anything else"
The Hoops open their league campaign with an away trip to Sligo on the opening weekend on 5 March but Fenlon does not feel being away is hampering his chances of strengthening his current squad as he has already spent this season’s player budget.
“We’re happy with the squad. We don’t have any more money to do anything else. The squad we have is quite strong, we’re happy with it and we're looking forward to the season with the players we have in the club at the moment.”
And while the locals have been turning out in their thousands to watch this once-prestigious tournament, which has returned to the calendar for the first time since 1995, Fenlon admits that it is mainly to watch the teams from Brazil, Argentina and Germany.
“We’re trying to open the Kerala branch of the Shamrock Rovers fan club. We have a few members so far. The locals love their football and they have a good knowledge and hopefully we have a good night tomorrow night.”
Shamrock Rovers v Atletico Paranaense Reserves takes place on Thursday afternoon, kick-off 1pm (Irish time).