Vinny Perth: Dundalk’s FC Riga draw ‘could have been worse’
League of Ireland champions will head to Spain to prepare for a pivotal few weeks
John Mountney and Dundalk have been drawn to play FC Riga in the Champions League qualifiers. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
After a midseason break that amounted to little more a weekend off, Vinny Perth and his Dundalk players head off to Spain on Wednesday morning to prepare for what may prove to be a season defining few weeks.
The Airtricity League leaders were drawn on Tuesday to play FC Riga in the first round of the Champions League qualifiers in a couple of weeks, when progressing just one round will be worth €400,000 to the club.
Before that, on Friday week, they will head to Tallaght, where taking three points against Shamrock Rovers would put them well on the way to having another crack at European football’s cash machine in 12 months time.
“Europe is a step up but the time away in Spain will help us to prepare for it and the game against Rovers,” says Perth.
“Both teams will be happy enough, I think,” he continues of Tuesday’s draw.
“If you look at the tie between BATE and Piast Gliwice, they (Riga) could have got BATE and we could have got the Polish champions so compared to that, both of us will feel that this is a winnable tie.”
Their opponents were only formed in their current form by a 2015 merger between two lower flight clubs, Caramba and Dinamo, and they have only played once before in Europe, last summer, after which they lifted the Latvian title for the first time. So, the fear would be that they will be better than the records suggest, a possibility Perth is attempting to assess.
“I’ve only started to look at them in the few hours since the draw was made but they look to be a good side,” he says. “They weren’t ranked very highly but that is down to the fact that they haven’t got the history of playing in Europe. There seem to be connections to the old Skonto Riga, though, who put Pat’s out a few years back (2016) and they play at their stadium.
“They only narrowly lost to CSKA Sofia in Europe last year, they have quite a few Latvian internationals and a couple from other countries so they will be strong. But, like I say, it could have been worse. You go into these things knowing that you can get one of the big European sides.”
On the face of it the European games add to a daunting line up of fixtures over the course of the month but Perth expects a couple of the league games to be quickly kicked back beyond the summer.
“We’re supposed to play Cork City and St Pats in the middle of the month,” he said. “They’re in Europe but due to play on different days of the week. It will be physically impossible to play all of the games so we expect there to be postponements but we’ll see how that works out.”
Rovers look to have the toughest of the assignments for the three League clubs in the Europa League with the Dubliners having been drawn against Brann Bergen, a Norwegian club with a decent pedigree in this competition even if they have had little to shout about in recent seasons.
Cork City, the only one of the three League of Ireland clubs to be seeded in the draw, will have to wait until the competition’s preliminary round is complete to discover whether they will face Progres Niederkorn or Cardiff Metropolitan University at Turner’s Cross in a couple of weeks time, with the Luxembourg outfit starting out as favourites to progress.
The order of St Patrick’s Athletic’s games against Swedish side Norkopping, meanwhile, has been switched with the Dubliners now set to play their first leg at home after having been initially draw away.
“It is a very difficult draw,” said manager Harry Kenny before the switch. “Any Swedish club football teams will be very, very good. The teams we would know the most in this country would be Malmo. But this Norrköping outfit finished second in their league last year and they have won plenty of titles (13) over the years and competed in Europe.”
“It is a big game to look forward to and we will look at that over the next few days.”
The draw for the second qualifying rounds of the two competitions will be held on Wednesday.
Draws (dates subject to confirmation): Champions League: Dundalk v FC Riga (Lat). Ties provisionally scheduled to be played on July 10th and 17th.
Europa League: Brann Bergen (Nor) v Shamrock Rovers, Cork City v Progres Niederkorn (Lux) or Cardiff Metropolitan University (Wal), St Patrick’s Athletic v Norkopping (Swe).
Ties provisionally schedule to be played on July 11th and 18th.