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Irish sides must improve mentally in Europe, says Dundalk boss

Vinny Perth admitted his men were beaten by the better team in Tallaght last night.

Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth dejected after the game.
Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth dejected after the game.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

OVER THE TWO matches against Slovan Bratislava, there were no shortage of moments for Dundalk to look back on ruefully.

What if they had managed to hold out for just a few more minutes in the first leg and keep the tie scoreless? What if Dominik Greif had failed to produce a brilliant save to stop John Mountney’s last-gasp header in Slovakia?

What if Andy Boyle had not made an uncharacteristic header to gift Bratislava the all-important second goal in Tallaght? What if Pat Hoban had scored his second-half penalty?

In truth though, even head coach Vinny Perth admitted his team were ultimately “beaten by the better side”.

Misfortune may have contributed to Dundalk’s downfall, but while the tie might have been closer, it could just have easily been worse for the League of Ireland outfit, with the visitors missing more than one gilt-edged chance to add to their tally.

“I’m obviously disappointed at the moment,” Perth said afterwards. “We’ve got to take that one on the chin. The concession of the goal so early made it difficult for us.

I thought we needed three anyway. I think the second goal is the one that made it very difficult for us. Our job now as a club and a team is to get back to this stage again. We’ve got to go and focus on winning the league. We can’t dwell on this too long. It’ll hurt for a couple of days. The harsh reality of football is we’ve got to focus on Friday night — we play Finn Harps.”

He continued: “I think we created a fair few chances tonight. Over the two legs, we were beaten by the better side, but we came up against a real good goalkeeper over them two ties. When we reviewed the match, we were probably disappointed we didn’t score away from home.”

Back in 2016, Dundalk set the template for Irish clubs in Europe by reaching the group stages of the Europa League and acquitting themselves admirably, with qualifying for the Round of 32 still possible up until the final matchday.

Since then, however, a revamped format means it is now arguably more difficult than ever for Irish teams to emulate that famous feat from three years ago.

“It was three rounds and it’s now four [to qualify for the group stages]. To be fair, we do have the champions’ route, which means losing a game gives you another opportunity [in the Europa League].

“So it is more difficult to get there. But I want us to chase that. To be fair to the owners of our club, they backed us in chasing that. They want us to be chasing European football at the highest level, whether it’s play-offs or group stages. 

“Riga [in the Champions League first qualification round] was meant to be an easy tie for us. You need a little bit of luck in the draw for Europe. You really do. To be fair to Slovan, they’ve got a tough draw now [against PAOK]. You see how difficult it is.”

Chris Shields dejected after the game Dundalk's Chris Shields shows his disappointment. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Perth also rejected the claim that his side had never been exposed to the athleticism and pace demonstrated by Slovan Bratislava’s impressive counter-attack, with Hungary international Dávid Holman among the visitors’ standout performers.

“I think we have been exposed to it, to be fair. I know Qarabag had a bad result today [getting knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers by Apoel Nicosia], but they’re probably a level above that. I felt the preparation coming into this tie, we were ready for it. Irish sides over the years have always struggled against pace and power. I think them days are starting to drift. We’re getting closer to where we should be [physically]. The next stage for us is to improve the mental mindset and compete at this level. That’s the challenge for us as coaching staff and it’s what we’ll focus on at our club.

“We’re operating at a high level and Irish clubs will have to go to the well to get results at this level for the next couple of years. Ultimately, that’s where we’re disappointed. We could make excuses, but the attacking side of our club, the central part of our club has struggled this year because of obvious difficulties we’ve had. I thought in the last few games, we had a much better balance in terms of the midfield, which helped us create more chances. So I think in both legs we created enough chances. We just haven’t been clinical enough.”

Perth also played down suggestions the club had gone backwards since that remarkable 2016 European run.

I think the standard has got higher. People look back with rose-tinted glasses. We were completely and utterly outplayed by BATE Borisov away from home [in 2016] and we had a special night [in Tallaght] to qualify. We won on away goals in Iceland. So the margins are so fine at this level for teams of our standard, whether it’s teams from Latvia or Ireland or whatever the case may be.

“We’ve got to the get this club to the next stage. We’ve spoken to the players this week — the club is going to the next level, so it’s up to the players to go to the next level. That is the plan and ultimately that’s our goal — to be in and around the play-offs or group stages of the Europa League, and I believe we can get there.

“I don’t want to bring up luck. We don’t rely on luck at this club. But there are winnable ties [at this stage of the Europa League] for Irish clubs.

“Not that we’re better than Linfield [who are still in Europe], I’m just saying there are winnable ties for Irish clubs, but drawing PAOK or Ajax for ourselves or Slovan was going to be a difficult challenge, so you need a little bit [of luck].”

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Paul Fennessy

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