Tuesday 24 April 2018

'We want to take a proper scalp' - Dundalk captain Stephen O'Donnell sounds battle cry

Seán Maguire of Cork City in action against Emil Wahlström of BK Hacken at Turner's Cross. Photo: Sportsfile
Seán Maguire of Cork City in action against Emil Wahlström of BK Hacken at Turner's Cross. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The format of the Champions League qualifiers offers little time for successful teams to bask in the afterglow of victory.

Pressing deadlines dictate that the show must go on. After a delayed departure from Iceland due to the vagaries of the aviation system, the Dundalk team spent the hours following their away goals triumph over Hafnarfjordur killing time ahead of a flight through the night back to Dublin.

When they arrived just short of 9am, club secretary Colm Murphy got off the plane and went straight to a 9.40am flight to London to visit the embassy of Belarus to lodge visa applications for next Tuesday's date with BATE Borisov.

Dundalk went through the process 12 months ago and, after hearing reports of St Patrick's Athletic spending a lengthy period of time in Minsk airport when they decided to secure their visas on arrival last week, Dundalk opted to get the hard part done in advance.

Every minute counts with a six day turnaround ahead of their rematch with the group stage regulars, the side that knocked Dundalk out at the first hurdle of their maiden Champions League voyage.

That familiarity helps. Winter signings Patrick McEleney and Robbie Benson will be the only two Dundalk players taking a step into the unknown.

BATE have made changes too, but captain Stephen O'Donnell still has important information logged in his head.

He thought about the 2-1 aggregate loss to BATE plenty of times as he watched them go through the group stages and take four points off Roma.

Dundalk players celebrate David McMillan's second goal
Dundalk players celebrate David McMillan's second goal

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"We know a lot of their players," said O'Donnell. "They underestimated us last year in the first leg. We played far better in the first leg than in the second leg at home.

"Sometimes I think it suits us to play away as there is always an onus on the home team to attack and we can prey on that because we have quick players who can break and exploit space. They've lost a few players but they've signed a few others so we'll do our homework as we're not just happy winning against FH. We want to take a proper scalp."

The dynamic will be different this time around. BATE were shocked by Dundalk initially and celebrated wildly at the end of the scoreless draw in Oriel Park that got them across the line, although they were much the better side in that game.

This time around, they will be visiting Tallaght due to the ground requirements for this level and the challenge for Dundalk is to get the result on their travels which draws interest from the public for the decider.

Again, the figures involved are staggering. The €1.2m guaranteed will rise to €2.4m if they can somehow find a way past the resounding favourites.

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It would leave them one tie away from the Champions League with a place in the Europa League group stages as consolation prize if they lost out. If BATE are too strong again, then Dundalk get a play-off game to try and play their way into the Europa League.

That has led to the BATE encounter being described as a free shot, but O'Donnell doesn't like that terminology.

"We're all proud players and you put pressure on yourself to go and perform," stressed the Galwegian. "You want to perform against the better players. There is no point being in your comfort zone and then you go up a level or two and get played off the park you know?


"We all think we're decent enough players, that's something we're going to relish. We wont be looking at it as a free shot, definitely not.

"With all the kicking Irish football gets, it needs teams do well. We're definitely not going to be saying 'let's just turn up for BATE and hope for the best and if we get anything it's a bonus.' No, it's heads on now and, without talking us up, we're going to be giving it hell for leather."

Kenny concurred with that sentiment, as he prepares for a third date with a club he defeated as Bohemians boss back in 2003. They have grown substantially in the intervening period.

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"It's tricky, but I think we shouldn't be fearful," he asserted, "There is a narrowing of standards generally. We are getting better

"We have to build on our achievement in Iceland. It's a credit to our players because, ultimately, football is about players. It's hard enough getting respect for winning two leagues, but hopefully it doesn't end here and we can push on."

Celebrating was off the agenda in the aftermath of the FH battle.

Kenny did explore bringing the players to the famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa to aid their recovery but the need to eat made it impossible to do both in the available window.

Kenny had a scout watching the second leg of BATE's game with Finnish top dogs SJK, with a pair of late concessions resulting in a 2-2 draw on the night and a comfortable 4-2 progression.

"We will do our homework right and we have to get our travel plans right," he continued, with Dundalk planning to fly out on Sunday as they embrace the responsibility of flying the flag.

"These are the games you want to play in," enthused O'Donnell, "It's why you do the running in January and February. We always have something like this in mind."

Irish Independent

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