It is not very often that you will hear of any Airtricity League teams making any sort of progression in the Champions League.
Well this year has been totally different, with the performances of Dundalk FC, who are now only two games away from qualifying for the group stages of such a lucrative competition. What makes this story even more astonishing is the fact that only four years ago, Dundalk were in a play off against Waterford to stay in the Airtricity Premier League.
Manager Stephen Kenny has pulled the club up from rock bottom to a level that the clubs fans could only have dreamed about a few years ago. It has taken a lot of hard work by all involved and now Stephen has become a hot property on the managerial roundabout, both in Ireland and the U.K.
He has bonded together a squad of players who believe in themselves and better still, have the confidence to succeed at the highest level. It just goes to show you good guys can be successful in the game and take it from me, you will not meet a nicer gentleman than Stephen Kenny, a fact I know only to well as I have known him on a personal level for a few years now.
Last Wednesday night Stephen’s Dundalk side, needed to turn around a one nil away defeat in Borisov to even dream about the big prize. Bate have an excellent record in European competition over the past few seasons and were overwhelming favourites to progress from this tie. What unfolded in front of a huge crowd in Tallaght was incredible, it was a game when the whole Dundalk team clicked in every position and were full value for their victory. This in itself was amazing, the Irish side made their opponents look very ordinary indeed.
Two goals from striker David McMillan and a third from Robbie Benson saw the team from Louth qualify for the Champions League Play Off and if they fall at that hurdle it will not matter as they automatically qualify for the group stages of the Europa League.
Beating Bate has guaranteed Dundalk European football at least up until Christmas this year. It will also bring in so much cash for a club who would never have dreamed of such rich pickings. After the game the Dundalk manager pointed out, that his team would be going all out for Champions League group stage qualification and had put any talk of settling for a Europa League place firmly on the back burner.
The news coming out of Dundalk after the draw on Friday was a mixed bag of emotions from the Dundalk camp. Delighted to be still in the competition, but Legia Warsaw could be a very difficult tie. The FAI have moved heaven and earth to help Dundalk progress and have even given the club permission to use the Aviva Stadium for the home tie as Dundalk’s own ground does not meet UEFA requirements.
Manager Kenny has called on the Irish football family to come out in their thousands and make the occasion unbelievable for all those involved. One thing that is certain, that with the amount of Polish people living in Ireland they will come out to support their side, which should lead to a great night. The governing body of Irish football, the FAI, should be applauded in the amount of help they have given to Dundalk whilst they have been going through this campaign, they have allowed them to rearrange league games so they can get enough rest time between games. It is a body that often gets so much abuse in this country, but in fairness they have done a lot on this issue. So it is now onto the Aviva Stadium on the 17th of August for the first leg and let us all hope that Dundalk can produce another good performance and get a good result to take with them for the second leg in Poland. If you look back at the Bate result you have to feel they have a chance, fingers crossed.