herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

'Europe is not a holiday for us'

Dundalk focus on gaining points

Dundalk captain Stephen O'Donnell insists his side are fully-focused on doing well in their Europa League group.
Dundalk captain Stephen O'Donnell insists his side are fully-focused on doing well in their Europa League group.

Don't try and tell Dundalk captain Stephen O'Donnell that the club are now in 'bonus territory' as they head into an insanely busy period of the season.

Dundalk's players have built a profile for themselves and their club with their exploits in the Champions League, with figures like Liam Brady, John Giles, Kevin Kilbane and Keith Andrews - men who are not all that used to the daily grind of the LOI - commenting on the Oriel Park side from their battles with Legia Warsaw.

It's back to basics for Dundalk tonight, and for the next while with four games in 12 days, as the head to play Wexford Youths, aiming to extend their three-point lead at the top of the table. A squad, ravaged by injury and suspension, has been buttressed by the signing this week of two players, with possibly more additions to come.

For O'Donnell, who missed the midweek game in Poland due to suspension, the Dundalk players have clear targets in mind and have no intentions in basking in the glory of the Europa League group phase, with domestic and European targets in mind.

"We have to be ready now that the domestic matches are here for the next while, our goal has to be retaining the league title and we have to go on and do that," O'Donnell told The Herald.

"We need to get back on the horse, so to speak, in the league, we lost our last two games and that's a massive incentive for us to put it right.

"The focus is still on winning the league again. At the start of this season, the goal was to win a third league title in a row and that's still the ambition. We go to Wexford for this game with a tough night ahead of us, Wexford come into this game on a high from beating Sligo in the Cup last week, so they will be buzzing.

"Every team will raise their game even more now when they play us so we have to be ready for that. I don't think we were ready for that in the two games we had in the league recently, in between the BATE and Legia matches, and that could be the kick up the backside that we need."

O'Donnell was part of the Shamrock Rovers side which reached the Europa League group stage, but then lost all six games, five years ago and he senses a different mood around the current set-up.

"It was such a novelty with Rovers that year, us being in the Europa League group stages, that anything was a bonus," added the Galway native.

"We only spoke about this last week, it (2011) was all new to us as players, that a group of Irish players were in the group stages of a European competition. Now I see a more realistic ambition for us to do something and get points in the Europa League.

"At Rovers it was all new, so we were buzzing just to be there. Yes, we are pleased to be there with Dundalk but we have set ourselves a realistic target of getting points.

"We feel we can get points. It's an exciting time in the season with the run-in in the league, trying to retain the FAI Cup and competing in Europe as well and this is what we were aiming for."

Boss Kenny was pleased to sign Alan Keane and Dean Shiels but does not foresee many more arrivals. "I don't think we will add too many more," he says. "It's tough, with 13 league games, the FAI Cup and Europa League."

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