Friday 24 January 2020

Current squad stronger than the heroes of '16: Perth

STRONGER: Vinny Perth’s Dundalk are3 in great shape. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile
STRONGER: Vinny Perth’s Dundalk are3 in great shape. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile

Given that they scaled new heights with their run in the Champions League and then the Europa League in 2016, it's some boast by current Dundalk boss Vinny Perth to say that the club's squad has never been in better shape than it is right now.

That claim will face its biggest test to date tonight when Dundalk, with their management team of Perth and John Gill in charge of a European game for the first time, take on Latvian champions FK Riga.

The mood around the town is upbeat, as is always the case for European nights, this tie sold out well in advance of matchday, despite the increased ticket price of €30 for some seats.

"The place is Dundalk mad, you don't see Liverpool or Man United jerseys, you just see Dundalk gear everywhere," says defender Brian Gartland, a Dublin native who has since moved to the border town, Gartland's future committed to the club with a new deal which he signed only yesterday.

"And it's not just children or men, it's every age, every gender. And it's brilliant as it's grown every year, the excitement this time of the year is through the roof, everyone wants to talk to you about it."

With excitement comes expectation and that's something that Perth has had to deal with when it comes to this tie against Riga, that the perception in Ireland of Latvian football suggesting that this tie is an easy one for Dundalk.

"They have 12 full internationals, they strengthened their squad after the draw, so I presume they see this an an opportunity to progress, they are top of their league too," says Perth, whose homework on Riga included four visits to Latvia to watch them in the flesh.

But he feels it's the strength of his squad, and the collective experience of Europe, which gives his side backbone.

"If we get an injury five minutes into the game or get yellow cards or a sending off we are really well covered," Perth says, admitting that the squad's strength was tested in their Europa League defeat to Larnaca 12 months ago.

"I don't feel that we have been in that situation since I came here. It probably caught us out a bit in Larnaca last year, we were disjointed in Larnaca last year because of bad luck and being out of form.

"I have not seen us in that position now as happened then so that's a real positive.

"It is important that you learn from it. We lost heavily on the night We got punished for big mistakes and for players being out of form over 45 minutes. We paid the penalty for it and have definitely learned from it.

"We have spoken about it internally and have moved on from it and this is an opportunity to out things right."

With a fully-fit squad, bar Jordan Flores, Perth can go into battle with a strong XI, no guarantee that returned emigrant Andy Boyle will get a place in the side.

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