DUNDALK MAY HAVE been the Airtricity League’s top side over the past two-and-a-half years, but last night they got the European result their domestic dominance deserved.
The magnificent 3-0 win over BATE Borisov at Tallaght Stadium not only guaranteed them another two-legged tie in the Champions League and, at the very least, a spot in the Europa League group stages, but it also secured a windfall of around €5.4 million for the Louth club.
“Tonight was a brilliant football display from players who believe in themselves and they showed their true talent to win in style,” said an elated Stephen Kenny when the celebrations had died down and he finally emerged from the home team’s dressing room.
The Lilywhites manager went on: “This was unbelievable because BATE are a team of huge calibre. They took four points off Roma (last season) and nearly qualified for the last-16 but were very unlucky. They drew with Bayern Munich too.
“They have had consistently-good results and they have over 600 European games between their players, who are all internationals. We’re not — we don’t have any internationals.
“We’ve a lot of players who are finding their way in the game and love the game itself. They want to be the best they can be and a lot of them have made so many sacrifices.
Now they will get their rewards with all these big games coming up.”
Striker David McMillan bagged his fifth and sixth goals in the competition to set a new record for the League of Ireland and Kenny was full of praise for the 27-year-old Dubliner.
“For all your good play, and we had a lot of it tonight, sometimes it doesn’t count unless you score,” he said.
“I think David was the difference as he scored two brilliant goals. The game was quite cagey and we had large spells of possession in the first half without hurting BATE.
“His two headers were brilliant finishes. He is scoring all types of goals, there is great variety in them and it is a huge credit to him.”
The games will come thick-and-fast for Dundalk now. They discover who their play-off opponents will be in Friday’s draw as they travel to Eamonn Deacy Park to meet Galway United in the Premier Division that night.
The two-legged tie is scheduled to be played on the 16/17 and 23/24 August.
“These are problems that we want,” he says about the busy schedule. “It’s beyond our wildest dreams from where we took over three-and-a-half years ago.
“We’re in the fourth round of the Champions League so we’ve got to go and try get into the group stages.
“All of the teams in the next round of the draw are major clubs and cities in Europe.
“We’re a small club. It’s a great reward for what everyone was put through in the dark years.
“It’s been a huge effort from my players and all the staff over the last three years. They have all been a huge credit.”
Tallaght Stadium hosted last night’s game as Oriel Park does not meet Uefa requirements, and while Kenny was thankful of being able to play at the home of his former club Shamrock Rovers, he likes the idea of having the next round at the Aviva Stadium.
“I don’t really mind where we play,” added Kenny. “Our away record is actually better, but it’s hard for the people of Dundalk to travel all the time.
“But they travelled in their numbers tonight and hopefully the wider public do get involved if it is the Aviva.
I’d like to play at the Aviva, that would be my preference. But this was great to have it here and we were grateful to be here.”
Kenny is determined not to let their European achievements distract them from matters at home. Dundalk hold a six-point advantage over nearest rivals Cork City in the league, but the Leesiders can narrow that down to three with their game in-hand.
“We have our work cut out and Cork have pushed us very close this year. There is no margin for error and that is why Galway is in the forefront of my mind. We’ve got to prepare accordingly.”
The injuries are beginning to stack up. Andy Boyle has gone for an x-ray on his back, while Ronan Finn came off with a groin injury last night and Brian Gartland is sidelined with a broken wrist.
But is he worried his squad might get a little stretched?
“It is a concern. But listen, we have some good players who haven’t really had the chance yet either.
“We have some good young players coming through at U19s — George Poynton, Ciaran O’Connor, Michael O’Connor. So they will have to come to the forefront now.”
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