Monday 26 August 2019

Real value of European success is in league's perception, not money

Dundalk’s Brian Gartland warms up in Tallaght yesterday during training ahead of his team’s Europa League clash against Slovan Bratislava tonight. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Dundalk’s Brian Gartland warms up in Tallaght yesterday during training ahead of his team’s Europa League clash against Slovan Bratislava tonight. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The mission for Dundalk tonight is to prolong Ireland's involvement in European club football this summer.

Their boss, Vinny Perth, is hopeful they will draw support from around the league to help them achieve that aim, especially as the inadequacies of Oriel Park mean they relocate to Tallaght for their Europa League decider with Slovan Bratislava.

But that's a complicated subject. Dundalk are on course to pick up a fifth domestic crown in the space of six years and there are rival fans who would question the logic of wanting the Louth club to do well when it's only strengthening their financial position.

The last club standing in Europe will pocket a further €300,000 - thus bringing their 2019 haul to €1.5m - if they can overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg and put themselves one tie away from the group stages.

'Beige' Perth noted comments from Brian Kerr last week that described the league as 'beige' with the ex-Irish boss arguing that there's a dire need for overseas players to come in and freshen things up.

He found it hard to disagree, and believes that the Irish image in Europe is vital in terms of making the idea of coming here attractive. That's why he is optimistic that rivalries can be placed to the side for one night only.

"We've spent €150,000 on a flight to Azerbaijan alone so the money isn't going to put us in a different stratosphere," said Perth.

"It's about perception and believing in our league. I read Brian's comments. They (outsiders) won't come here unless we're successful in Europe and at least in play-off rounds and trying to get to the group stages. First of all, our own supporters have to turn up but we would also like people from outside coming and making an effort to get behind us."

Dundalk already have happy memories of hosting in Tallaght, much as it's a slight source of irritation to Shamrock Rovers fans. Perth actually grew up down the road in Killinarden, and has memories of kicking the ball around on the old site as a kid.

The breakthrough win over BATE Borisov in 2016 took place in Dublin 24, and they also played their Europa League group matches at the venue. Dundalk also have a good league record here with defender Andy Boyle agreeing they have managed to turn it into a home away from home.

"It's a nice open pitch and suits the way we want to play," he said.

The League of Ireland side travelled back from Slovakia last week with regrets that good chances were wasted.

Slovan did apply a lot of pressure before breaking the deadlock with just four minutes remaining, and know an away goal would put them well in control.

Indeed, one of the visiting questions at their press conference last night centred around who they might face if they advance; the losers of the Champions League tie between PAOK and Ajax await the winners.

"We need to focus on Dundalk," said defender Jurij Medvedev who said his knowledge of Ireland was limited to Conor McGregor and predicted a ferocious battle. However, Boyle suggested that Dundalk will stop short of coming out all guns blazing.

"We're experienced enough in Europe to know that we don't have to come out the first 15 or 20 minutes gung-ho," continued Boyle.

"We have to give ourselves every opportunity to be in the tie for as long as possible. If we concede, it gets difficult. But if that happens, it's not to say we can't score three goals."

The problem is that Dundalk have scored just once in their five European games this term. Perth would argue that they've become more defensively solid, yet this Dundalk team made waves because of their ability to hurt opposition defences and they've struggled to find that rhythm this year.

"That's just noise from outside our group," asserted Perth. "There is no doubt our attacking play is not where it was or where we would like it to be. But last week, their goalkeeper has made three outstanding saves. We are operating at a decent level and scoring goals can be difficult."

They will be out of Europe by 9.45pm tonight unless they rectify that problem.

Irish Independent

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