Sidelined skipper O'Donnell sounds a note of defiance
Stephen O'Donnell, Dundalk's inspirational captain, was yesterday coming to terms with the disappointment of missing the second leg of the Champions League qualifier against Legia Warsaw next Tuesday.
O'Donnell's yellow card in the first-leg defeat at the Aviva Stadium was his third of the campaign and triggered an automatic one-match suspension.
In the immediate aftermath, the Galwegian's message to his team-mates and Dundalk fans was one of defiance.
But in the cold light of day, he can only reflect on the frustrations at missing the chance to lead his troops on a do-or-die mission.
The crucial tackle was one he felt he could not avoid. Legia's dangerous midfielder Vadis Odjidja made a break towards the Dundalk goal, and O'Donnell committed himself to the challenge.
"I was conscious of it coming in that I was a booking away from suspension, but you can't go on the pitch and think about that," he said.
"The No 8 was bursting through the midfield, so I thought I had to make a tackle, because I thought he had options.
"It's disappointing for me but I won't be complaining if we can do a job over there next week.
"We've a great squad, it's a team game. I'll be over in Poland cheering the lads on. It's very disappointing personally."
The skipper rightly praised his team for their positive approach, for their passing moves and some top-quality build-up play.
"As I said to the lads, how enjoyable it is playing in this arena on a pitch like that in an atmosphere like that," he said. "You wouldn't mind playing there every second week, but I'm just glad that we tried to play football in the right way.
"We passed the ball, there was no hit and hopes into channels, no backs to the wall. We tried to play. Possession was 50-50. We've done some intricate moves, a nice bit of passing, probably without the cutting edge to create enough chances, but we'll work on that over the next week.
As the emotions calmed down, analysis of the key moments revealed how quick the punishment comes at this level for small lapses in concentration and judgement.
The 56th-minute penalty award against Andy Boyle when the ball hit his arm as he attempted to block a shot by Steeven Langil was harsh and arguably wrong, but the situation arose from an earlier touch of slackness in the Dundalk midfield.
Similarly, the 94th-minute second goal by substitute Aleksandar Prijovic owed much to a loss of possession close to the centre circle.
A foul in the Legia penalty area on Ciaran Kilduff could have yielded a penalty for the home side, but the ref decided otherwise. Had that been given, it would have changed the outlook completely for the Lilywhites.
In O'Donnell's absence, Chris Shields will take on an even bigger role in central midfield. He is looking to the Europa League tie with Hadjuk Split in 2014 as inspiration.
Dundalk lost the home leg 2-0 but went to Croatia and scored a 2-1 victory, with a late push for a win on away goals falling just short.
"There's no point throwing in the towel," said Shields. "We went to Split two down and had them on the ropes.
"The first goal is crucial and we feel if we can get it, it might put them on the back foot a little bit. We have to go and take the game to them. We can't just go out with a whimper. "