Dundalk get another crack at BATE in the Champions League tonight

Stephen Kenny’s side are in Belarus to take on the club that knocked them out of the competition a year ago.

Ronan Finn and Nemanja Nikolic of BATE 12 months ago.
Ronan Finn and Nemanja Nikolic of BATE 12 months ago.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

12 MONTHS ON from their last Champions League meeting, Dundalk and BATE Borisov lock horns once again tonight (7pm).

The Lilywhites, back-to-back SSE Airtricity League Premier Division winners and the dominant force in Irish football over the past two years, were drawn with the Belarusian champions at the competition’s second qualifying round in 2015.

BATE were clear favourites to progress from the tie having qualified for the group stages the previous three years, but there was reason to be optimistic after the first leg as Dundalk put in a strong performance and secured an away goal through David McMillan in a 2-1 defeat at Borisov Arena.

Back at Oriel Park, however. the home side were unable to find the back of the net and the 0-0 draw was enough to send BATE through. They would see off Hungary’s Videoton and Partizan Belgrade en route to the groups, where eventual champions Barcelona, Serie A giants Roma and Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen awaited.

Despite finishing bottom, they took four points off Roma and another from Leverkusen thanks to one win and two draws. They also wrapped up a tenth straight league title in November.

This season, BATE eased passed SJK Seinajoki of Finland with a 4-2 aggregate victory to set up the rematch with Dundalk, who defeated FH Hafnarfjordur on away goals.

Speaking ahead of the tie, which is set to earn Dundalk €1 million, captain Stephen O’Donnell says there is a real determination among the squad to get another step closer to the proper rounds of Europe’s elite club competition.

“I think they underestimated us last season in the first leg,” said the midfielder.

We know a few of their players. They’ve lost a few players but probably signed another couple of good players. We’ll do our homework.

“We’re not just happy winning this (round) and getting two more (games). The next hurdle is really taking a proper scalp. BATE is a huge game, it’s a game you want to play in. It’s a lovely stadium and it’s something we’re really looking forward to. It’s why you do the running in January and February.”

Stephen O'Donnell Dundalk skipper Stephen O'Donnell. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We’re all proud players. There’s pressure. You put pressure on yourself to go out and perform,” he added.

“You want to perform against the better players. There’s no point being in your comfort zone and then when you go up a level or two you get played off the park.

You want to test yourself against the better players. We all think we’re decent enough players so it’s something we’re going to relish. We won’t be looking at it as a free shot. Definitely not.

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“We’re definitely not going to be thinking ‘let’s just turn up at BATE, hope for the best and if we get anything it’s a bonus’. It’s heads on now and, without talking us up, we’re going to be giving it hell for leather.”

After suffering a broken wrist in the last round, Brian Gartland will miss both legs as he is expected to be out for six to eight weeks. The reliable defender is Kenny’s only injury worry, however.

The sides meet in the return leg at Tallaght Stadium in a week’s time, while both games will be shown live on eir Sport.

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