BATE no barrier to Euro success for Dundalk star Finn
He was part of the Shamrock Rovers side that reached the Europa League group stages four years ago but Ronan Finn feels his current Dundalk side are better equipped to confront the demands of the Champions League.
Stephen Kenny's League of Ireland champions were yesterday handed the tough assignment of toppling Belarusian kingpins BATE Borisov over two legs next month if they're to reach the third qualifying round of Europe's premier competition.
Apart from the arduous six-hour charter flight to Minsk for the first leg on July 14 or 15, the Lilywhites will be facing a club seasoned in European progress, evidenced by their progression to the group stages of either the Champions or Europa League in five of the last seven campaigns.
That Bayern Munich and Athletic Bilbao figure amongst the scalps BATE have taken in the past two years underlines the calibre of opposition blocking a much-needed success story for Irish football from potentially taking flight.
Finn, a close-season capture from Rovers, sees no reason for Dundalk to be fearful despite the task awaiting them.
The midfielder featured in all but one of Rovers' eight fixtures during their odyssey through the Europa League in 2011 and insists he's now part of a stronger panel.
"Power and fitness were the major differences when we played the likes of Ruben Kazan and PAOK back then but I feel we've bridged the gap," said the 27-year-old.
"We struggled to last the pace for the full games, yet this Dundalk side are much fitter and capable of getting a result against BATE once we get it right tactically. The fact we're at home in the second leg helps.
"This a young, hungry and highly-motivated group of players and Champions League level is where we want to play.
"The manager has to drag us out of the gym at times because players are doing so much work outside of normal training.
"Much of that is down our strength and conditioning coach, Graham Byrne. As players, we know our places are in jeopardy if we don't put the work in."
Yesterday's Europa League first-round draw proved kinder for the four Irish qualifiers.
St Patrick's Athletic will face Latvia's Skonto Riga aware that victory would pit them against either Debrecen from Hungary or Montenegrin outfit Sutjeske in the second round.
The other seeded team, Shamrock Rovers, have to overcome FC Progres Niederkorn of Luxembourg to book a date with the victor from the tie between FC Sheriff of Moldova and Norwegian side Odds Ballkubbs.
Cork City were paired with KR Reykjavik of Iceland, while UCD also drew opposition from Luxembourg, F91 Dudelange.
Progression for City would set up a meeting with either Vikingur, another team from Iceland, or Norwegians Rosenborg. Awaiting UCD, should they advance, are Europa from Gibraltar or Slovan Bratislava.
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