Sport Soccer

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Boyle hungry to replicate European exploits of 2016 after Dundalk return

Dundalk's Andy Boyle. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Dundalk's Andy Boyle. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The final game of Andy Boyle's first stint as a Dundalk player was in Israel, a Europa League defeat to Maccabi Tel Aviv in December 2016 which brought down the curtain on a life changing run.

Plans were already in place for his move to Preston, a switch that helped to give the Dubliner the chance to play for his country and experience life at Championship level.

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The arrival of Alex Neil to replace Simon Grayson spelled bad news for his prospects and loan spells with Doncaster, Dundee and Ross County preceded his decision to come home this summer and straight back into the familiarity of European excitement.

Dundalk's dramatic win over Riga last Wednesday has set up a two-legged tie with Azerbajiani powerhouses Qarabag, a team that has sampled group stage football in the past five seasons - four times in the Europa League and one Champions League adventure.

Oriel Park will be heaving for round one on Wednesday, and minds will then turn towards a 5,000km trip for the second leg. Win or lose, Dundalk will be guaranteed at least one more journey with a parachute into Europa League qualifiers available if Qarabag prove too good. With the European schedule set to take over the summer, Boyle quite fancies a trip down memory lane.

"What the management and owners want to do is replicate what we did in 2016," says the 28-year-old, who was a part time player at Shelbourne when signed by Stephen Kenny ahead of the 2013 season. "Riga was a stepping stone along the way."

Boyle's assured showing next to penalty hero Sean Hoare made it look like he's never been away. But he has returned to a club that has changed dramatically in a relatively short space of time, with all the transitions a consequence of that 2016 voyage.

Dundalk's American owners were attracted to the idea of buying an Irish team by that story. Kenny wouldn't have graduated to the position of Irish manager in waiting without that run on his CV. And while Boyle is a homebird, it was a tour of improved behind-the-scenes facilities that swayed his mind.

A post-match Facetime call from Jose Mourinho to new boss Vinny Perth highlighted the networking strength of their new overlords, with former Sky Sports reporter Andy Burton doing some work with the League of Ireland champions on behalf of Peak6.

The Americans might have faced questions about the front of house facilities at the Louth venue, but a €500,000 spend on the day-to-day environment is turning heads.

Dundalk recently enlisted the services of a production company to craft a video advertising their set-up which they hope will help with future recruitment.

Boyle had options to stay in England or move permanently to Scotland yet he stresses that he isn't one of those players who want to be based across the water "for the sake of it".

A three-year deal has committed him to a central role in the next phase of the Dundalk project, wherever it may take them. There are fond memories of his time away, games in venues such as Celtic Park, Ibrox and St James's Park and the icing on the cake which was pulling on the green shirt at the Aviva. The priority now is to use that body of work to bring Dundalk to a higher plain.

"I've played at a good level and might have a bit of experience but there are plenty of lads who have experience of playing at the level we want to get to," says Boyle.

"We just got over the line in Riga but we're not looking to make up the numbers now. The thing that stood out on our last big run was that attitude. We can improve. We probably didn't create a whole lot in the last two games, which is what we were known for.

"This (Qarabag) is a big test for us. They are a top side. We've had half an eye on them and (opposition scout) Stevie O'Donnell has gone (to Azerbaijan) to watch them.

"The staff did great work on making sure we knew everything about Riga and I'm sure this will be no different. We've got a chance. Maybe a free shot isn't the right word but we know that whatever happens, there will be more games afterwards."

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