Monday 21 October 2019

Latvia test opens doors for Dundalk but Dublin clubs set high bar in Europe

Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth. Photo: Sportsfile
Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The value of being seeded was highlighted by the outcome of the European draws for the League of Ireland class of 2019.

Representatives of the four participants were hoping for good news in Switzerland and, in truth, the way the balls rolled has opened up the possibility of the rich getting richer.

Champions Dundalk will be satisfied with the task they've been landed with, but the three Europa League sides have been set with difficult assignments.

Dundalk have climbed up the rankings by virtue of consistent appearances in this competition and their memorable 2016 run under Stephen Kenny significantly boosted their record.

This year is the first time they have been seeded at the first hurdle, something Kenny had been working towards before his exit.

The benefits of that work were plain to see yesterday.

While Latvian champions Riga FC have a well travelled playing squad with international experience, they are a step down from the likes of BATE Borisov or Rosenborg who were on the same side of the draw as Dundalk this time around.

Surprise Polish champions Piast Gliwice - lowly ranked as they have no European pedigree - were the side Vinny Perth's team wanted to avoid.

St Patrick's Athletic manager Harry Kenny faces a tough Europa League test against Swedish side IFK Norrkoping. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
St Patrick's Athletic manager Harry Kenny faces a tough Europa League test against Swedish side IFK Norrkoping. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Linfield would also have posed a security headache.

In the circumstances, Riga is a kind enough result. Dundalk are at home first on Wednesday July 10 with the return seven days later and no expense will be spared in the mission to learn more about a club that was only established in 2015 as an amalgamation of two smaller sides.

Like Dundalk, Riga are midway through a summer season but there is no break so they are likely to be watched this weekend by Dundalk's opposition scout Stephen O'Donnell.

A midweek round next week might allow Perth or another member of staff to do some on the ground research too.

Dundalk are already guaranteed €800,000 for participation and will net another €400,000 if they get through with more doors opening.

Champions who fail to make the group stages of the main competition get a parachute into Europa League qualifiers - the further a team advances in the main event, the easier the passage is to the secondary competition.

Dundalk's American owners were attracted to the club by the 2016 adventure and staff know that they will be under pressure to progress in that sphere this term.

"The ambition of the club's owners is to do well in Europe," said Dundalk coach Ruaidhri Higgins, speaking on the LOI Weekly Podcast. "We're not naive to the fact that they want to get back to group stages of European football so it's up to us step to the mark.

"I'm not saying that we need to get back to the group stages straight away but I'm sure they want to see progression in Europe."

Higgins says the Dundalk group will not be fazed if they are saddled with the favourites tag.

"I know this is easy to say but we go into every game expecting to win and this will be no different," he said.

"But they (Riga) are littered with internationals. They have nine Latvian internationals, a Georgian, Serbian and Albanian international, and they have a Japanese and Brazilian player too."

Cork City's regular European qualification gave them seeding status in the first round of the Europa League draw.

They will have to regain their old personality to add to the €240,000 reward for participation. John Cotter's team face the winner of the tie between Cardiff University and Luxembourg's Proges Niederkorn.

The latter are the likely opposition and their country has improved at this level with a Progres win over Rangers' and Dudelange's progression to the group stages 12 months ago illustrating that point.

St Patrick's Athletic and Shamrock Rovers were unseeded so they were always likely to be dealt tough ties. Rovers' manager Stephen Bradley felt there were sterner options than Norwegian side Brann.

Saints supremo Harry Kenny has acknowledged they will need to improve performance levels if they are to unsettle Sweden's IFK Norrkoping.

The Dublin sides were both drawn out away first but times and dates should be clarified today when all clubs will also get a handle on what lies in store if they progress to the next round.

Dundalk cannot afford to be complacent, but their hierarchy will be very interested by the permutations. Their domestic counterparts have work to do before they can think about them.

For the full LOI Weekly discussion on the European draws go to independent.ie/podcasts or search LOI Weekly on Apple Podcasts

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