There is just one day to go until Dundalk FC make their return to the UEFA Champions League stage and excitement levels are rising all around the town, as the Lilywhites prepare to host Riga FC in the first qualifying round first leg.
Behind the scenes at Oriel Park, preparations are being ramped up for the biggest game of the season so far and, on the pitch, Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth is confident his squad have prepared well for the visit of the Latvian champions.
Speaking at the official pre-match press conference in the Youth Development Centre on Tuesday afternoon, Perth was in no doubt that a strong Dundalk performance will be required to pass the challenge that Riga will pose.
“It’s going to be a really tough game,” said Perth. “This time last year we played Levadia Tallinn and I’d consider Riga to be a better side than them, so it’s a game we have to be ready for and we have to bring our ‘A Game’.
“I would say they would probably have liked to get us or the Welsh side [TNS] in the draw out of the seeded teams, so they’ll see this as an opportunity, but we’re in really good form.
“We’ve got a lot of players in really good physical condition and I think we’re in a good place at the moment. That’s backed up by our league position. This is the most positive I think we’ve ever been heading into a European game and it’s probably the best the squad has ever been since I’ve been at the club. So I think we’re in a good place.”
Nine members of the Dundalk squad featured in the club’s memorable European run of 2016, which ran all the way to the group stages of the Europa League.
This will be Dundalk’s sixth European campaign in the last six seasons and Perth, who himself has been here for all of them – alongside opposition analyst and chief scout Stephen O’Donnell – believes that this experience, both on and off the pitch, will stand them in good stead.
“We’ve done it all before,” he said. “We’ve been behind and we’ve had difficult nights. We drew here with FH from Iceland and there was a bit of doom and gloom, but we’ve had positive nights here in Europe too. We’ve experienced all of the highs and the lows.
“The players, led by Brian [Gartland], Stephen O’Donnell coming into the management team – they’ve got huge experience. They’ve been there and done that.
“We’ve played 24 European games before this season and we’re heading towards 30. Your average League of Ireland player might play six or eight games – these guys are way ahead of that, so experience-wise that’s not a worry in any way, shape or form.”
Oriel Park is a sellout for the visit of Riga and a cracking atmosphere is in store for the most-anticipated game of the year.
Our supporters have helped spur the players on through some tough times this season – such as turning a 1-0 half-time deficit into a 2-1 victory at home to UCD in February – and Perth is calling on all Dundalk supporters to make it another special night at Oriel Park.
“This season, it’s well documented the injury problems we had earlier in the season and our backs were against the wall at times.
“As a club, I’ve said since the start of the season, we have to do this together and we all have to help each other out. The level of support we’ve had this year in away venues has been unreal.
“But going back to when we were in a difficult place, like 1-0 down at half-time here to UCD, the roar when we came out for the second half is something the players have spoken about.
“We need this be another special European night and we need to do it together, as a club and as a town. We can’t take these nights for granted. They are special nights, we have to enjoy them and to use that as a real positive.”
You can view all of today’s Dundalk FC press conference, which also features the views of first team coach John Gill and captain Brian Gartland, below.
Photo credit © Ciaran Culligan.