DUNDALK manager Ian Foster has told his players that they need to up their game if they want to make sure that their run in European football this year is not a short one.
The Lilywhites are back in Europe for the first time in eight years, taking on Grevenmacher in Luxembourg in the first leg of their first qualifying round tie in the Europa League on Thursday, the winners of that tie taking on Bulgarian outfit Levski Sofia in the second qualifying round.
Dundalk travel to the Grand Duchy, via Germany, tomorrow morning but they didn't exactly set off with a spring in their step as they warmed up for the game with a very disappointing 3-0 defeat by Bohemians on Friday night.
On the same night Grevenmacher played their first game since returning for pre-season training, a 0-0 draw in a friendly with champions Jeunesse Esch.
Grevenmacher are one of the weaker sides in Luxembourg football, having won the domestic title only once in their history and having never won a European tie, but boss Foster is not allowing himself get carried away and start planning for a trip to Bulgaria.
"I don't know a great deal about them," said Foster. "I got a DVD of their cup final and I had a scout watching them on Friday night in a friendly game. All last week my focus was on the Bohemians game. Now that's out of the way we can look to Luxembourg this week.
"I have the DVD of their last competitive game. I'll assess the friendly from Friday and see what they are like, what the turnaround of players is. But the most important thing is that we are ready, and if we put on a performance like the one in the second half against Bohemians on Friday we will find it very tough.
"If we can get anything out there in Luxembourg it will be fantastic. We will go and try to win it.
"They are unknown quantity but I want a bit of character and a better performance than Friday. If we can get something out there and then give the fans something to cheer in Oriel Park in the second leg on Thursday week.
"We won't look too far ahead in the competition. If we showed a lack of respect by talking about Levski Sofia, then there's every chance we could get murdered in Luxembourg, so I'm not thinking about the Bulgarians," added Foster.
At 33, Englishman Foster is the youngest manager in the Premier Division and the former Galway United boss knows there is a test ahead. "It's an opportunity for us to go to Luxembourg and get something. It's something different for my players to deal with and cope with, it's a different style of football out there but we're looking forward to it," he said.
"And it's a great opportunity for me to test myself at Europa League level. I can't wait for it. It's a big test for me personally, European football is a different kettle of fish and we have to be more patient.
"Going from assistant at Galway United to managing in Europe, to get the chance to manage in the Europa League this early -- I am only 33 and I've been a manager for less than 18 months -- is wonderful, at times I have to pinch myself.
"I would like to play the British/ Irish style of football, on the front foot, going at people, but I don't know if we can do that as I don't know how Grevenmacher play. We will have to do our homework and if we don't know, we'll have to work it out on the night very quickly. Hopefully we can get something out there and give a good account of ourselves," added Foster.