Dundalk aim to pass Duchy
HE WAS taught a lesson in his last outing in European football but Dundalk defender Brian Gartland expects a different outcome when he makes his UEFA debut for the Lilywhites this evening in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
League of Ireland rivals Derry City and Sligo Rovers don't play in Europe for a couple of day - Derry are at home to Aberystwyth on Thursday and Sligo away to Lithuanian outfit Banga on the same day - so Dundalk are first up to fly the tricolour, taking on Jeunesse Esch in Luxembourg (4.45pm Irish time) tonight.
While Derry's 'reward' for progress past this round is a meeting with Belarus outfit Shakhtar Soligursk, there is a massive incentive for Dundalk as their prize, should they get past Jeunesse Esch, is a second round tie with Hajduk Split.
Gartland has been on the receiving end of a Croatian lesson previously but he is targeting progress to the next round, if Dundalk can make their fitness count against a Luxembourg side who are only just back into pre-season.
"If we did get though to play Hajduk Split it would be a massive tie, with their pedigree and history I would love to play them and if we did get through we wouldn't be going there to make up the numbers," says experienced defender Gartland.
"But we have to get there first and I am sure the lads from Luxembourg are thinking the same about us, they will fancy their chances against us, so we'll see what happens over the 180 minutes.
"Fitness is a factor for us, we are midway through our season so we should be fitter than them. But we can't take our eyes off the ball and we know that different teams from Luxembourg have had good results in the last while.
"One of their clubs knocked Utrecht out of Europe last season and their national team have done well, they drew with a very strong Italy side before the World Cup.
"So we are up against it but our fitness should stand to us, we pride ourselves on our work-ethic and our fitness so that will be in our favour," added Gartland.
While Dundalk boss Kenny is one of the most experienced managers in the league in terms of European games - this is his seventh season in Europe - most of the squad will be making their Euro debuts in this round.
"We don't have a lot of European experience in our squad. I have played there before, so have Ruaidhri Higgins, Peter Cherrie and Mark Rossiter, but the rest of the lads haven't played in European matches. I had four games in Europe when I was at Portadown," added Dubliner Gartland.
"When I made my debut in Europe with Poartdown we had a side from Albania, who would be more or less on the same level in terms of standard as the Luxembourg team we have in this round, but there was a massive step-up in standard for the second round, when we had to play a Croatian side.
"That was a real eye-opener, playing the Croatians. One of our lads scored an own goal in the first 30 second and they beat us 6-0 over there in the first leg, It was a bit closer in the home leg, they beat us 4-2 but they went though easily.
"So now we have to take it one game at a time, if we get a good result out in Luxembourg it's something to build on for the home leg next week.
"You need to have complete concentration in Europe from the start, I learned that in the game we played in Croatia when we were 1-0 down within a minute.
"Our manager went into the game with three strikers, they were meant to track back but when you're a goal down within seconds you are really struggling. If you make a single mistake you get punished," he added.
Injuries will have a massive bearing on the side picked by Stephen Kenny for the tie. Pat Hoban returned to action following surgery in Friday''s draw away to Derry City but he is still not 100% fit while Daryl Horgan, Mark Rossiter and Keith Ward are also doubts.
"This is a great experience for the club. This is for all the people who kept the club alive back in 2012 and it shows just how far we have come in such a short space of time that we have got this far. We qualified based on our season last year and we have to justify that," says Kenny.
"We are looking forward to the trip and Europe is always something you want to be a part of. We will go there with confidence but we respect Jeunesse. They finished well in Luxembourg last season and are a good side."