Dublin: 18°C Wednesday 4 August 2021

Dundalk licking their wounds after Champions League exit but ready for Bratislava challenge

Vinny Perth’s men face Slovan Bratislava in the first leg of their Europa League third qualifying round tie.

Sean Gannon in action against Qarabag in Baku last Wednesday.
Sean Gannon in action against Qarabag in Baku last Wednesday.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE CHALLENGE TO become the first-ever Irish club to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League is getting more and more difficult with each passing season. That reality was firmly hammered home last Wednesday night in Baku.

Dundalk fought valiantly against Qarabag at Oriel Park to earn a 1-1 draw in the opening leg of their second-round qualification tie. They even had a number of chances late on against the Azerbaijani champions to snatch a shock win on home soil to throw a cat amongst the pigeons.

But come the second leg, Vinny Perth’s men were second best right from the off as the superior quality of a side which has qualified for the group stages of both the Champions League and the Europa League came home to roost with a comfortable 3-0 win.

“We prepared for this moment as staff and it hurts a little,” Perth admitted afterwards. “But you take it on the chin. You are talking about opposition like Qarabag, that sort of level.”

His men showed guts and guile against Riga in the first qualifying round to prevail on spot-kicks.

Vinny Perth Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

After failing to score at Oriel, Dundalk dug deep when they needed to, before some penalty heroics from Gary Rogers secured their passage and kicked-off this summer’s European adventure in dramatic style.

The sucker punch delivered by Qarabag last week will have hurt the players, but the defeat was by no means a shock given their opponent’s calibre and European pedigree in recent seasons across both competitions.

Instead the Lilywhites are looking forward, not back, with tonight’s Europa League meeting with Slovan Bratislava representing a tie which is much more realistic in terms of going through another round and potentially making the play-offs (where the losers of Ajax and PAOK await).

In terms of European football, we are not done yet,” Perth reflected in Baku. “After the management spoke, senior players see this as half-time in [our] European adventure.”

Stephen O’Donnell, once the club’s enigmatic captain and now chief opposition analyst, was sent to scout APOEL Nicosia in Cyprus in the event that Dundalk did make it through in the Champions League.

He will no-longer need the notes and observations that comprised that particular dossier, but the former skipper says the Premier Division champions are not dwelling on what might have been.

Stephen O'Donnell with John Mountney Former Dundalk captain and now chief opposition analyst Stephen O'Donnell. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I think everyone is in a positive frame of mind,” O’Donnell said speaking ahead of tonight’s first-leg in Slovakia. “With the quick turnaround no-one has time to reflect.

“Whatever happened on Wednesday we were onto new opposition this week, so the work starts straight away after the final whistle.”

Travelling Dundalk supporters will be in for a treat in Bratislava later this evening, with the opening leg taking place at the stunning new 22,500-seater Tehelné Pole Arena, which hosts Slovakia’s international games and was re-opened in March at a cost of over €70 million.

Bratislava notably made it all the way to the 1969 Uefa European Cup Winners’ Cup final, where they beat the might of Barcelona 3-2 in Basel to be crowned champions in what is still held up as the club’s greatest achievement. Rightly so.

More recently they have qualified for the group stages of the Europa League, in 2012 and 2015, where they finished bottom of their group on each occasion.

League of Ireland fans might also recall the Slovakian giants dumping out Collie O’Neill’s UCD side 6-1 on aggregate to end The Students’ unique European Odyssey four years ago.

Slovan_Bratislava_defeated_FC_Barcelona_in_the_1969_European_Cup_Winners'_Cup_Final_by_a_score_of_3-2 Bratislava beat Barcelona 3-2 to win the Uefa Cup Winners' Cup in 1969. Source: Slovan Bratislava

On the domestic front, the club have started their title defence with a perfect record — three wins from three, most recently seeing off FJ Senica 3-0 last Saturday.

Be part
of the team

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership.

Become a Member

Nine points from nine and top of the table looks great on paper, but it masks ongoing turmoil in the managerial department which has clouded Bratislava this summer.

Manager Martin Sevela was fired last month after his side exited the Champions League qualifiers in the opening round to Sutjeska of Montenegro.

In his place stepped Serbian coach Vladimir Radenkovic — ever so briefly — who only took charge of one game after getting involved in a political disagreement surrounding Slovan’s Europa League tie against Feronikeli, who are from Kosovo.

With tensions between Serbia and Kosovo ongoing, the Serbian government requested that Radenkovic and two of Bratislava’s midfielders, Dejan Drazic and Aleksandar Cavric, not travel to take part in the Europa League away tie, which all three men agreed to.

Next up in the hot-seat to replace Radenkovic after his solitary game in charge was former Slovakia international Jan Kozak Jr, who is currently filling in as caretaker manager at the club. He has overseen Slovan’s B team for the last four years and will be sat in the dugout opposite to Vinny Perth and John Gill later this evening.

This difficult managerial turmoil has not impacted results on the pitch so far this campaign. After their shock Champions League exit, Slovan saw off Feronikeli, 2-1 at home and 2-0 in Kosovo.

Michael Duffy says Dundalk are in the right frame of mind to make the play-offs, as the club continues to try and match the dizzying heights of 2016 when Stephen Kenny’s men made history by qualifying for the group stages.

Either Ajax or PAOK await should the Lilywhites get the job done, and Duffy believes he and his team-mates are ready for the challenge that awaits in Slovakia to make the play-offs and extend their European summer.

“Preparation has been good for us,” the winger said. ”Everything has been very positive since last week. We had to forget about Qarabag, it was a tough night for us but they are a brilliant team.

“They have been in the group stages of both the Champions League and the Europa League the past few years, it shows their quality and it was disappointing to lose but we have a chance to progress here.

“We have a big game against Slovan Bratislava now and they are going to be a good side. We have a chance to get to the Uefa Europa League play-off, which is where we all want to be. 

Michael Duffy reacts Michael Duffy is optimistic ahead of tonight's first leg in Slovakia. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We have done a lot of work on them so far and you can see their quality already,” Duffy added.

“They are an attacking team, so we know what we are up against. They are at home, but we are a good side too and it’s going to be tough for them.

We will be ready for them. We are looking forward to the game and hopefully we can get the result that we want.”

With prize money of €300,000 and a play-off against Champions League semi-finalists Ajax or (much more likely) Greek champions PAOK in the pipeline, Dundalk’s challenge against Bratislava will be difficult, but the rewards equally immense over the next week.

- Dundalk’s Europa League third qualifying round first-leg against Slovan Bratislava kicks-off at 7.15pm and is available live on Eir Sport 1.

The42 is on Instagram! Tap the button below on your phone to follow us!

About the author:

Aaron Gallagher

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel