Vinny Perth insists current Dundalk crop are better than European heroes of 2016
Given that they scaled new heights with their run in the Champions League and then the Europa League in 2016, it's some boast by current Dundalk boss Vinny Perth to say that the club's squad has never been in better shape than it is right now.
That claim will face its biggest test to date tonight when Dundalk, with their management team of Perth and John Gill in charge of a European game for the first time, take on Latvian champions Riga FC.
The mood around the town is upbeat, as is always the case for European nights, and this tie sold out well in advance of match day, despite the increased ticket price of €30 for some seats.
"The place is Dundalk-mad, you don't see Liverpool or Man United jerseys, you just see Dundalk gear everywhere," says defender Brian Gartland, a Dublin native who has since moved to the border town, Gartland's future committed to the club with a new deal which he signed only yesterday.
"And it's not just children or men, it's every age, every gender. And it's brilliant as it's grown every year; the excitement this time of the year is through the roof, everyone wants to talk to you about it."
With excitement comes expectation and that's something that Perth has had to deal with when it comes to this tie against Riga. He says his players are so well-drilled that they won't be lured into complacency because of the absence of star names or a big club.
"The level of detail we get of teams in Europe, the players have seen the quality, so much of their attacking play. Players tend to get into a mode where they're really focused," says Perth.
"Seán Gannon's focus is their left winger, he wants to know all the details about him so it's not a concern internally, but maybe externally when people think Irish football and Latvian football. They're a good side and there is level of respect there.
"They have 12 full internationals, they strengthened their squad after the draw, so I presume they see this as an opportunity to progress," says Perth, whose homework on Riga included four visits to watch them in the flesh.
But he feels it's the strength of his squad, and the collective experience of Europe, which gives his side backbone.
"If we get an injury five minutes into the game or get yellow cards or a sending-off, we are really well covered," he says. "I don't feel that we have been in that situation since I came here. It probably caught us out a bit in Larnaca last year, we were disjointed in Larnaca because of bad luck and being out of form. I have not seen us in that position now as happened then so that's a real positive," says Perth.
Gartland, a survivor from 2016, agrees. "Before if we were missing one or two players through injury or suspension, you might have noticed it but you won't now," he says.
"The work done for Europe is even better than it was back then, we have everything in terms of facilities and backing to build on and we are in a great position."
Last summer in the Europa League, Dundalk laboured to a 3-1 win over Estonian side Levadia, drew 0-0 at home to Larnaca in the next round but lost 4-0 in the away leg.
"It is important that you learn from it. We lost heavily on the night. We got punished for big mistakes and for players being out of form over 45 minutes. We paid the penalty for it and have definitely learned from it," Perth adds.
"We have spoken about it internally and have moved on from it and this is an opportunity to put things right."
With a fully-fit squad, bar Jordan Flores, Perth can go into battle with a strong XI, and no guarantee that returned emigrant Andy Boyle will get a place in the side.
While some of the Dundalk squad are in and around the 30-game mark in terms of European appearances, tonight is a debut, of sorts, for Perth as he manages a side in Europe for the first time, 18 years on from his European debut as a player, under Stephen Kenny at Longford Town, when travel problems hit them hard before departure to Bulgaria.
"Our flight was cancelled, we went to a driving range at Dublin airport to kill two hours, and we ended up having to kill 36 hours," he jokes.
Dundalk v Riga, Live, RTÉ2, 7.45