We will learn from Qarabag humbling, insists Cleary
Daniel Cleary believes that Dundalk have the potential to get to the level of the Qarabag side that picked apart the Irish champions on Wednesday night.
The ex-Liverpool defender struck a defiant tone in the aftermath of a challenging evening in Baku with the Azerbaijani hosts full value for their 3-0 win.
Dundalk now have to refocus on the Europa League and a third-round qualifier with Slovan Bratislava, with the first leg taking place in Slovakia next Wednesday.
The Louth club ultimately feel that progression in that competition is more realistic at this point in time.
That said, Cleary took umbrage at the suggestion that the players were thinking in those terms ahead of the humbling evening in the Dalga Arena.
"We weren't thinking that if we lose, we lose," he asserted. "These games are massive to us. We want to show our quality. We want to take Irish football to the next step and we're still a little bit behind it.
"But we'll definitely get there in the next few years, I think. Our club has massive potential to become a club like this (Qarabag).
"We needed a game like this to show us where we need to get to," continued Cleary, who expanded on why Qarabag were simply superior.
"It's a little bit of everything. Tactically, technically, they're quality players. And they're well drilled as well. They're a massive club and they've been in the group stages the last five years.
"We can't dwell on this, we've a massive opportunity next Wednesday.
"We can learn from tonight before we move on, but we've a great chance of going through if we perform."
Veteran Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers was also thinking in those terms after his 44th appearance in European competition.
He's been around the block and knows that the champions' route to the Europa League is where it's at right now.
Indeed, there was a confidence boost for the Lilywhites last night when the Riga FC side which they knocked out in the first round of Champions League qualifiers scored a shock success over Polish champions Piast Gliwice.
"Our target at the start of the year was to get to the Europa League group stages and we're still on target for that," said 37-year-old Rogers.
"Qarabag should stand to us as it's really good preparation for playing a team of that quality. And we're hopeful of playing a bit better too.
"They haven't been in the group stages for the last five years for no reason, and I think they showed us why.
"You can be in poor form now as it's fresh in the mind but in the morning it's done and dusted.
"We don't have to wait a year to try put things right in Europe. It's a great opportunity for us next week."
The Dundalk players arrived home from Azerbaijan at 6.30 on Thursday morning and will undergo recovery sessions in different groups in Dundalk, Derry and Dublin today before gathering as a group again tomorrow.
And in what may be seen as a bonus, former Dundalk goalkeeper Donal Greene now lives in Slovakia and has helped out his local club with a scouting report from Bratislava's recent matches.