'Devastated' Dundalk turn focus to Cork showdown
There was a mood of deflation around Oriel Park late on Wednesday night as Dundalk reacted to their Champions League departure, but also a grounded appreciation of why they had come up short.
BATE Borisov didn't make too many friends in a fiercely contested tie that concluded with a 2-1 aggregate success for the Belarusians. In truth, it was the actions of a club official which really wound up the natives after the scoreless draw in the second leg: he stormed around the pitch afterwards making a finger-to-the-lips gesture.
However, Dundalk's players did have respect for the efficient manner with which an accomplished BATE side closed out the tie to continue their march towards a fifth group stage appearance in football's elite club competition.
If anything, it has increased the determination to get back to that level in 12 months' time, with a view to securing a kinder draw and cutting out the errors which marred a fine first-leg showing.
"You leave yourself with a lot to do," sighed defender Brian Gartland after Wednesday's game. "BATE are a good side, but they're not much better than us. I'm disappointed that we didn't play much football but they set up and made changes to stop us playing which is a bit of respect to us, but that means nothing in the end.
"It's been said a few times but we're not one for moral victories. We put in a great effort but we're out and that's the bottom line - we can't have any arguments. We need to kick on and make sure we're back next year.
"The odds are you're not going to get a tie as hard as BATE. They're one of the best sides in the qualifying rounds and their celebrations showed what they thought. They got a shock last week and got out of jail."
Dundalk's immediate mission is to avoid the cliched European hangover. Cork, who responded to their Icelandic setback by hammering Longford, are now due in Oriel this Sunday evening for a top-two encounter that will have an unusually short build-up.
It will be City's first visit to Louth since losing the title in the final-day decider last October. Stephen Kenny's side are six points clear heading into this encounter, yet they are conscious Cork will sniff an opportunity.
"We can't feel sorry for ourselves," asserted Gartland. "Cork are probably delighted we had a tough physical game against BATE. They'll think we'll be tired and will want to put it up to us. We have to bounce back."
Kenny expects a mature response. "The players are devastated," he said. "But they are quite a humble and level-headed group. They will digest the disappointment as we know Sunday is a big game for us."