Dundalk must bring 'big-game mentality' every week - Benson
Published 26/08/2016 | 02:30
Coming back down to earth is one of the biggest challenges facing Dundalk - starting tonight at Ferrycarrig Park, which is a far cry from the Polish Army Stadium in Warsaw, which was packed with 30,000 raucous supporters on Tuesday night.
Dundalk's heroic performance fell just short of qualification for the Champions League but a place in this morning's draw (12.0) for the group stages of Europa League was assured.
The Lilywhites will be in Pot Four and will face one team from the top seeds, which include Manchester United, Inter Milan, Ajax and Schalke.
It says a lot about how far the League of Ireland champions have come under Stephen Kenny that having to 'settle' for a place in the Europa League was almost deemed a disappointment.
The squad will watch the draw together ahead of their game against Wexford Youths, but as soon it is made the focus will immediately switch back to getting the three points tonights.
"The manager always says you have to have that hunger and edge about you for these games," Tuesday's goalscoring hero Robbie Benson explained.
"You have to be able to pick yourselves up. You need to have the big-game mentality every week. The manager is very good at instilling that."
Dundalk have been inundated with plaudits in recent weeks but they know how tough it will be to retain their title.
"It's massive," goalkeeper Gary Rogers said of the Wexford clash. "These are the games that you have to focus in on because we've had a couple of disappointing results in the league.
"We have to get three points - we need them to get back into position to be playing in these Champions League fixtures."
The dust has barely settled on this season's attempts to make the Champions League but that is already the focus for next season and that won't happen if Dundalk take their eye off the ball.
"I don't think it's disappointment that we're in the Europa League group stage. It's a disappointment that we're not in the Champions League group stage," Rogers explained.
"We were really focused on that competition. We always knew the Europa League was there but we put it to the side and gave the Champions League goal everything.
"I don't think we were overawed by any of it - we embraced it. We were possibly unlucky with the results over the two legs and it's a sign of how far the club and the group has gone that we felt we could possibly have gone through.
"I don't think that is stretching things. There are obvious signs that we are there or thereabouts."
The potential of being drawn in the same group as Manchester United has its obvious attractions and, while Dundalk could conceivably find a large Irish crowd backing the English side, Rogers is relishing the prospect of keeping the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at bay.
"You want to test yourself against the best teams possible," he said.
"No matter who you get in Pot One it's going to be a massive challenge, and we'll embrace that challenge.
"People in Ireland are massive Man United supporters and there's no better way to compare ourselves to them than by playing them in a big European fixture.
"I think most of the lads would want to get Man United, but whoever we get will be a top side in Europe.
"It would be a great challenge to be faced with and it's something you would aspire to. If that is the opposition we face we would be delighted."
Dundalk have lost their last two league games, which highlights the difficulty in maintaining their league challenge as well as fighting on the European front.
But as testing as it may be, it is exactly the position the club wants to be in and for Benson, who is in his first season with Dundalk, it is now all about building towards the future.
"We came up one short this time, but we knew we were going to have six more games regardless," the former UCD attacker added. "It will give us more exposure and a chance to show what we can do.
"If we had qualified for the Champions League the games would have been much more difficult. Now we are going to be looking to pick up points and qualify from the group, whereas if we were in the Champions League that might have been an unrealistic target.
"It's probably a good measure of where we are as a club and it's a stepping stone to maybe getting into the Champions League a year or two down the line."
Gary Rogers and Robbie Benson were speaking at the PFAI's announcement of a three-year partnership with Joma Sport