Dundalk know value of European run as Riga come to town

Vinny Perth fondly remembers his exploits with Longford when he was a player

Champions League first qualifying round first leg: Dundalk v Riga

Kick-off: 7.45pm, Wednesday. Venue: Oriel Park. On TV: Live on RTÉ2

Some of the scheduling might have seemed like a bit of a hardship at the time but as he embarks on his first European campaign in charge at Dundalk, who face Riga this evening at Oriel Park, Vinny Perth suggests he and his players would gladly suffer the same sort of inconveniences now that their successful 2016 campaign subjected them to.

“We jumped off a plane from St Petersburg and went straight to the Aviva,” he says, of the time the team touched down and had to immediately turn their attention to the cup final against Cork a couple of days later, “but we’d take that again if it’s going.”

READ MORE

For the moment, at least, any repeat is quite some way off with Dundalk needing to get through four rounds of football before they need to worry about any group stages and the draw has not been especially kind.

A tough looking test awaits them in a couple of weeks time whichever way things go against the Latvians. Winning now, though, would guarantee them a place in the third round of one of the two European competitions and Perth would presumably take that if was offered right now.

The 42-year-old insists he is no novice on this stage having been involved in 24 European games at the club alongside Stephen Kenny over the past few years. Long before that, he recalled, he played with Longford against Litex Lovech of Bulgaria when the flight to the away leg was cancelled and most of the players ended up at a driving range out by the airport. "We went over there to kill two hours and ended up having to kill 36," he said with a laugh.

Predictably, Longford lost the game but the fondness with which Perth remembers the sense of occasion around the club and town is clear. The setting for his press conference on Tuesday, though, provides a fairly stark indication of how different things are at modern day Dundalk with the recently refurbished training centre at the ground way ahead of what most clubs have in Ireland even if some of the high rollers they will face over the coming weeks would not necessarily be all that impressed.

Perth goes into the first leg against Riga with virtually a full squad to choose from – only Jordan Flores is ruled out by injury – and the Dundalk manager believes the group are "in a good place," even as he acknowledges that the Latvians, plenty of them full internationals, will view a crack at the Irish champions as something of an opportunity.

Brian Gartland, meanwhile, has managed to work the negotiation of a contract extension into his preparations for the game and will now be at the club until at least the end of next season and Sean Gannon has finished as one of the runners up to Danny Mandroiu of Bohemians for June's Airtricity/Soccer Writers' Association of Ireland Player of the Month Award.

Former Dundalk striker Michael O'Connor has joined Waterford on loan from Linfield but the Premier Division club have announced that Bastian Hery has moved the other way, on a permanent deal, for an undisclosed fee..

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times