By Philip O'Connor
(Reuters) - Ireland's Women's National League champions Wexford Youths have launched a crowd-funding campaign to cover the costs involved in their Champions League qualifying campaign.
The players already pay 500 euros (£461) a year each to be play for a side that have won three of the last four domestic league titles and claimed a treble in 2018.
However, the expense of travelling to Lithuania to face three other sides hoping to qualify for the last 32 of the UEFA competition has left them seeking help from fans and sponsors.
"The main problem is that we don't get any money until after the tournament is over so we have to fundraise for any expenses," club secretary David Cassin told Reuters.
He is hoping that European football's governing body UEFA will make a payment to the club by the end of August.
Wexford Youths lost their first game to Albanian champions Vllaznia 3-1 and now face hosts Gintra Universitetas on Saturday and Malta's Birkirkara on Tuesday in a four-team group.
The 10 group winners join 22 elite clubs in the last 32, where the likes of European champions Olympique Lyonnais await.
The Irish club estimate they still need an extra 6,000 euros to cover expenses such as flights, hotels and meals for the group stage.
A sponsor stepped in to pay for the cost of sending their kit to Lithuania, but Cassin does not want to put the burden on his players to foot the rest of the bill.
"They are under enough pressure doing their normal day-to-day jobs, training three or four times a week and then playing games as well," he said.
Wexford Youths has a soldier, a carpenter and several teachers in the squad plus several university students.
Although UEFA will reimburse most of the costs, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has declined to give the club the money and Wexford youths have turned to crowdfunding to cover the rest. Around 800 euros has been raised so far, Cassin said.
"I don't want to dig a hole for myself, but it's frustrating," he added. "We still have to deal with the FAI on a daily basis.
"It's not fair when you see the prize money that the (Irish men's) Premier Division and First Division (teams) get. Put that against what we get for winning the league and it's buttons.
"It's like firefighting the whole time - you're trying to put out fires all the time, and keep the wolf away from the door," he said.
The FAI did not respond to a request for comment.
Cassin wants the FAI to support clubs reaching the Women's Champions League. "If they could do that, then we could concentrate on the football," he said.
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; editing by Ken Ferris)