Monday 22 July 2019

Europa League group stage is Dundalk aim

Soccer: Champions League

James Rogers

Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth says he is relishing the prospect of leading his side into Europe and has targeted a place in the Europa League group stages.

The Lilywhites will learn their Champions League first qualifying round opponents later today (Tuesday, 18th). While repeating the feat of reaching the group stages as they did in 2016 is now more difficult, it's a challenge that Perth feels his side are more than capable of achieving.

Speaking to The Argus ahead of the squad's departure on a training camp in Spain, the 42-year-old said: "If we're not aspiring to be in the group stages of the Europa League then we're selling ourselves short.

"I believe the club is getting closer to having the right infrastructure, we're getting closer to having the squad capable of doing it again but ultimately you need a couple of things to go your way.

"Our seeding is what it is but you're trying to compete against some major clubs to get back into that area. Once this competition starts our focus is trying to get into the group stages of the Europa League again.

"You must dream and you must believe you can do that. The standards we've had in the club over the last six or seven years has always been that high that when we have gone out of Europe, no matter whether it was against Hajduk Split, Rosenborg or even not getting out of the group in 2016, there's always disappointment when we go out of Europe at whatever stage that may be.

"It's a massive target for us but we certainly have no inferiority complex with anybody that we'll meet. We'll give it everything that it deserves.

"That's why we will be working hard this week when the easier thing to do is to take seven or 10 days holidays. That's not what we do around here. We're getting ready for Europe and the back end of the season.

"Europe is always a special occasion. It's what you're judged on over your career. Obviously winning leagues and cups is what you're first judged on but how you do in Europe is a measure of were you just very good or were you excellent and that's the drive."

Dundalk are seeded for the first qualifying round draw but in opponents such as Polish champions Piast Gliwice, Romanian side CFR Cluj, Hungarian outfit Ferencváros and the top non-seeded side, FK Suduva of Lithuania, there are plenty of difficult opponents potentially lying in wait for the SSE Airtricity League holders. Perth admits that a little luck is needed when it comes to the draw.

"There's no point in worrying about it until after the draw," he said.

"The advantage we've given ourselves is we're worried about one or two teams whereas previously we were worried about five teams because they all had higher seedings.

"The year we had FH, they were the one we probably wanted, but this year we're trying to avoid maybe two out of five or three out of six so we're in a better position because of our record on the pitch.

"It's a lot more positive but like any draw in a cup competition you need a lot of luck in order to progress."

Perth said Europe was a great time for heroes to come to the fore, even those who might not necessarily have featured as often as they liked to date this season.

"I've used Stephen Donald, who played for the All Blacks, as motivation for people.

"He was fourth choice number 10 and was out fishing but they had a serious amount of injuries at number 10 and he ended up scoring the winning penalty in the World Cup final against South Africa in 2011.

"I've shown the lads that video and none of them had heard of the guy before so it can be someone coming from nowhere who makes a difference when it really matters.

"The challenge is for the players to be inspired by Europe and see who is the next Stephen Donald. That's the figure I've used but it could be who is the next Ciaran Kilduff, the next Robbie Benson or David McMillan, who all got big goals for us. It's exciting for the players and something for them to really look forward to."

Meanwhile, Perth said he was no closer to adding to his squad but admitted Stephen Folan, who has yet to feature for the first team this season, could be on his way with Derry City and Larne amongst those interested in the defender.

"We're genuinely no closer to signing anybody or for anybody to go out. The window doesn't open for another two weeks so a lot of things can change in that time. Fellas can become available and we'll take them if we think they're going to improve the squad. People may come to me and say they're not happy and want to leave.

"The only real one of note, and everybody knows about it, is Stephen Folan. It has probably been a year now since Stephen has played first-team football and I think for him personally we have to look after him and see can he go somewhere to play first-team football. For him to be a year and a half without first team football would affect his career so we're open to that but there's nothing to report as yet. "Over the course of the next two weeks we'll have a few discussions with Stephen and different clubs. There's a lot of interest in him because he's that good a player but we'll see how that one goes. Beyond that there's nobody else nearly done or being close to done so we'll see where we end up.'

The Argus