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Dublin: 13 °C Monday 16 September, 2019
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This Dundalk team is capable of producing more great European nights

They may be out of the Champions League, but this season’s adventure is far from over.

Dundalk players thank the travelling support inside the Polish Army Stadium last night.
Dundalk players thank the travelling support inside the Polish Army Stadium last night.
Image: FotoOlimpik/Tomasz Jastrzebowski/INPHO

- Ben Blake reports from Warsaw 

ANYONE WHO HADN’T watched either leg of Dundalk’s Champions League play-off with Legia Warsaw may have glanced at the 3-1 aggregate scoreline last night and presumed they had been well-beaten over 180 minutes.

That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Make no mistake about it, the club from Ireland’s smallest county, whose players come from all four corners of this island, stood toe-to-toe with their opponents and matched them in just about every department.

To say the penalty decision in Dublin was contentious is an understatement, while the Poles scored their other two goals in injury-time as Dundalk bodies and minds tired — understandable given the amount of grass they had covered.

That’s not to take anything away from Legia’s achievement, as they go through to the group stages for the first time since facing Blackburn Rovers, Spartak Moscow and Rosenborg back in 1995.

But Stephen Kenny’s team has proven that, despite the limited resources, they can punch above their weight and compete on the European stage with a fearless style of football that’s also pleasing on the eye.

Outstanding around the park with centre-halves Andy Boyle and Paddy Barrett particularly excellent, it was up there as one of the finest team performances from a League of Ireland side in Europe.

Dundalk supporters celebrate Robert Benson's goal Robbie Benson's thunderous strike had Dundalk daring to dream. Source: FotoOlimpik/Tomasz Jastrzebowski/INPHO

Robbie Benson’s thunderbolt deservedly went viral on social media last night — not just in Ireland but also further afield.

A top class strike regardless of what level you’re playing at, and scored by a man who was plying his trade in the SSE Airtricity League First Division with UCD last season as he finished his Masters degree in Actuarial Science.

He’s one of several players Kenny has managed to bring the best out of, including the other man brought in ahead of this season, Patrick McEleney.

The Lilywhites boss, who will surely go down as the one of the greatest managers to grace Irish football, has boldly set his sights on not only taking points off teams in the Europa League, but actually progressing to the knockout stages.

It is five years since his former club Shamrock Rovers became the first LOI club to reach the group stages of the competition, where they failed to pick up a single point under current Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill.

While the identity of all 48 sides entering Friday’s draw in Monaco is not yet known as there are still second legs to be played, several big names are sure to be in there including Manchester United, Roma, Inter Milan, Fiorentina, Schalke, Athletic Bilbao and Zenit St Petersburg.

The Dundalk Team Dundalk now go into the pot for Friday's Europa League draw. Source: FotoOlimpik/Tomasz Jastrzebowski/INPHO

And although newcomers Dundalk will be expected to accumulate the same tally that the Hoops did back in 2011, it feels like this group of players is significantly better-equipped to make the step up.

They don’t possess a huge squad but it will be bolstered by a couple of new signings at least in the coming weeks with former Rangers midfielder Dean Shiels (son of Derry City boss Kenny) and ex-Sligo Rovers full-back Alan Keane believed to be close to joining as free agents.

In terms of a venue, the decision hasn’t yet been made on whether it will be the Aviva Stadium or Tallaght Stadium that hosts the Europa League games.

But Dundalk have clearly captured the imagination of many casual football fans over the past month, so you would like to hope that the 30,147 fans who showed up for the most recent home tie will decide to get behind them once again.

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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