Vinny Perth’s Dundalk side have practised penalties ahead of their Europa Conference League decider in Levadia Tallinn, an understandable move given how last week’s 2-2 draw in Ireland could have swung in either direction.
The niggling sense remains, though, that if this Dundalk side can hit their maximum level they are capable of progressing past the Estonian league leaders to set up a trip to Holland and a showdown with Vitesse Arnhem next week.
That’s a big if, especially given how strange things have been this year off the pitch at Oriel Park. After locking horns with much bigger and better sides in recent memory, it would be a disappointment if a European campaign was ended by an opponent from a lower-ranked league.
Typical of the situation is that Perth may end up relying heavily on a player who is headed for the exit door. Derry City’s announcement of a pre-contract deal for Patrick McEleney was controversial and the player was keen to leave in this window although Perth seems to have dug in on that.
To McEleney’s credit, he has responded by performing strongly in the first leg and he also came off the bench to score the winner in a gruelling FAI Cup tie with Treaty United last Sunday.
“There is a temptation when that sort of news breaks, even from a coach’s view, to think twice about keeping the guy around,” said Perth.
“But I knew what I was getting out of Patrick and I also think it (McEleney staying) sent a message to the group and other teams in the league that we were not here for easy pickings.
“We were going to stand up and fight between now and the end of the season. To be fair to Patrick, he does deeply care about Dundalk. He’s lived in the town for a long time,” added the Dundalk boss.
Expensive recruit Wilfried Zahibo struggled last week and Greg Sloggett impressed off the bench before going on to play for the full duration in Limerick, proving he had overcome an injury.
Sloggett is a different type of player to the departed Chris Shields but Perth feels the ex-UCD and Derry player is now embracing responsibility. “We are creating a new culture and Greg is central to that,” said Perth, “He is ready to go to the next level.”
The 25-year-old is out of contract at the end of the year, like most of his team-mates, and nobody at the club is entirely sure about what the future holds. Extending this European adventure matters.