Sport Champions League

Friday 18 October 2019

Dundalk aiming to do better on Champions League stage

Patrick Hoban celebrates after scoring against Levadia. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Patrick Hoban celebrates after scoring against Levadia. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Domestic form is very much back on track, but the focus for Dundalk is on the European stage today as they aim to make up for their most recent disappointment at that level.

And the Co Louth club could even be faced with the shortest away trip possible in European competition, if they get drawn with Irish League champions Linfield, just a 80km drive from Oriel Park to Windsor Park.

That would be a repeat, 40 years on, of the clubs' bitter clash in the old European Cup, when Linfield had to play the home leg in Holland for security reasons as the two clubs met during one of the bloodiest periods in the Troubles.

By early afternoon today, the four Irish clubs will know their opposition for the first qualifying rounds of the UEFA competitions.

Anoraks

Dundalk (Champions League) and Cork City (Europa League) are seeded, while Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick's Athletic are both unseeded in the Europa League.

The anoraks among us have yet another day out tomorrow as the draw for the second qualifying rounds will be made. The likes of PSV Eindhoven, Basel and Olympiacos enter the fray in the Champions League, while Wolves and Roma get on board in the Europa League.

As their club reps headed for UEFA HQ last night to attend the draw, the Irish teams had some idea of where they might be headed as their list of potential opponents was narrowed down to a pot of five or six teams.

At first glance there was nothing to strike immediate fear into their hearts, as the breakdown of the pots for the Europa League in particular took the likes of Legia Warsaw, Steaua Bucharest and Hajduk Split out of the equation.

All four clubs could, potentially, get opposition from these islands as the draw could see Dundalk play Linfield, Cork City take on Cardiff Metropolitan University, Shamrock Rovers battle with Kilmarnock and St Pat's have a go at Aberdeen.

They could also find the draw goes against them and end up with long treks to play unattractive opposition. It could ensure that travel and hotel costs end up making a serious dent in the €220,000 which UEFA guarantee the clubs in the Europa League.

Cork City fans might have their loyalty and eagerness to travel tested as their possible destinations are Finland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and possibly Kosovo or Luxembourg.

Outside of Scotland (Kilmarnock) and Sweden (Malmo), Rovers could be off to the very pricey Liechtenstein, Norway or Vitebsk in eastern Belarus, close to the Russian border.

Unless they draw Aberdeen, Pat's supporters will not be very impressed if they have to plan trips to Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Lithuania or Belarus, for a potential clash with the Dinamo Minsk side who defeated the Saints in their last Euro outing.

So Dundalk are likely to be happier with whatever today's draw throws at them.

Then again, they are a happy bunch in general these days. Domestically, things could hardly be better as they went into the mid-season break with a run of 11 wins and one draw from 12 with the added bonus of their closest rivals, Shamrock Rovers, dropping points.

Should Dundalk beat Rovers in the first game after the season restarts, they will be eight points ahead.

But Europe is a big aim for the club, after a disappointing outcome last year when they beat Estonian side Levadia in the Europa League before going on to lose 4-0 to the Cypriots of Larnaca.

"It's the top tournament with the top players. Everyone wants to play in those games," Dundalk defender Seán Gannon says of the Champions League. "I think we were disappointed with how Europe went last year, we feel like we didn't do ourselves justice in the games against Larnaca.

"We don't want that to happen again so it's just a case of trying to correct a few things from last year and hopefully be more successful in Europe this year," added Gannon who was named player of the month by the SSE Airtricity Soccer Writers Association of Ireland (SWAI) in May, his first such award.

"I have kind of just given thought to who we could get. It's something that you just look at and then park it. Whoever you draw in the Champions League, it's always a tough game. It's exciting. I think everyone will agree that when Europe comes around, there is a buzz around the place. We'll look at who we get and then we'll look at the Rovers game. We need to not get distracted."

Irish Independent

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