Saturday 17 August 2019

Mourinho call adds to Perth joy as spot-on Dundalk oust Latvian aces

Riga FC 0-0 Dundalk

Robbie Benson of Dundalk
Robbie Benson of Dundalk
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

After a dramatic penalty shoot-out win of the utmost significance, an extraordinary evening in Riga took an even more surreal turn for Dundalk boss Vinny Perth.

He was still coming to terms with the dramatic win over the Latvian champions when he was approached by Andy Burton, the former Sky Sports reporter who is now heavily involved with the League of Ireland champions through a connection with their American owners.

Gary Rogers of Dundalk. Photo: Roman Koksarov/Sportsfile
Gary Rogers of Dundalk. Photo: Roman Koksarov/Sportsfile

Burton had a phone in his hand and a familiar presence waiting on Facetime. Jose Mourinho is pals with Burton and he popped up on the screen to congratulate the Dubliner.

"I was a bit emotional as you heard at the start and then that added to it because he's just a hero of mine," said Perth, the rookie boss who has lived with the pressure of filling Stephen Kenny's shoes.

Hero

"He has always been a hero of mine so for him to ring and congratulate me was a surreal moment. A real special moment."

Dundal's Patrick McEleney in action against Armands Pētersons of Riga. Photo: Roman Koksarov/Sportsfile
Dundal's Patrick McEleney in action against Armands Pētersons of Riga. Photo: Roman Koksarov/Sportsfile

There was giddiness in the air as Perth told the story.

Word had also come through that star winger Michael Duffy, who didn't make it to Latvia in the end as he was waiting for his partner Emily to give birth, had become the father of a baby boy during extra-time.

He had dashed out to watch a shootout that meant everything to the protagonists.

However, that story might have been told with a different slant if Dundalk had exited at this crucial hurdle.

The visitors found a dogged Riga side very difficult to break down across 210 minutes and the shoot-out was a roller-coaster of emotions as both teams scored their first three penalties before missing their next two.

Riga goalkeeper Roberts Ozols kept out efforts from Dane Massey and sub Georgie Kelly - the latter would have put the Lilywhites through if he had converted.

But Dundalk would get another shot at glory. Gary Rogers was equalling the record for appearances in Europe by a League of Ireland player and he will look back fondly on his 41st outing after denying Armands Petersons in the second round of sudden death.

Centre-half Seán Hoare wasn't even able to watch when Kelly was taking his effort, but he was next on the list. "I hate looking at penalties," he explained afterwards.

Yet he would make no mistake with his kick, doing the business in front of an end of the ground that houses a car park - an unusual backdrop for a series of kicks that had box-office value.

Progression is worth another €400,000 for the Oriel Park coffers, on top of their initial €800,000 for participation, and sets up a two-legged tie with Azerbaijan powerhouses Qarabag.

The first leg will take place in Dundalk next Wednesday.

"I do know this management set-up was questioned," said Perth, expanding on his relief.

"It means we have at least six games in Europe to test ourselves and show what we're about.

"We felt under pressure but not from the club, to be honest with you. I met the PEAK6 owner (Matt Hulsizer) last week and it was an amazing meeting. He filled me with so much confidence and all the staff with confidence."

Still, a hard conversation would have beckoned if Dundalk had passed up this opportunity.

The unavailability of Duffy did weaken Perth's hand.

And his pace would certainly have brought something extra to a tense affair that was low on attacking quality.

Similar to round one, Riga's approach was conservative and they were content to allow Dundalk have the ball for long spells. The Louth outfit actually did the same as the minutes progressed. It was a nervy back and forth, and the chances that were created weren't really worth talking about.

Set-pieces were Dundalk's main threat and Patrick McEleney, deputising for his best pal Duffy on the left side, brought a first-half save from Ozols after one broke down.

Beyond that, it was scrappy fare. Extra-time was inevitable and Riga finished with 10 men after persistent fouling earned Herdi Prenga a second yellow card - just as Dundalk were preparing to bring in Kelly as a second striker.

But Dundalk's battery levels were low and they were unable to make the most of the numerical advantage as Riga ran down the clock in search of penalties.

For the locals, heartbreak beckoned. For the guests, a mixture of relief and exhilaration.

RIGA FC - Ozols; Saric, Prenga, Cernomordijs; Petersons, Laizans (Panic 81), Rugins, Roger (Brisola 51), Visnakovs (Gabovs 105); Bopesu (Rakels 52), Debelko.

DUNDALK - Rogers; Gannon, Boyle, Hoare, Massey; Shields (Jarvis 99), Benson (D Kelly 80); Mountney (Murray 64), McEleney, McGrath; Hoban.

Ref - D Meckarovski (Macedonia).

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