'Dundalk can give league a lift'
A boyhood dream can become a reality for Dundalk star Daryl Horgan if his side can get past Legia Warsaw and advance to the group stages of the Champions League.
And the former Ireland U21 cap believes that success for the Co Louth side would prove that the League of Ireland is a real option for young Irish players.
Dundalk step up their preparations for tomorrow's first leg at home to Legia when Stephen Kenny's side train in the match stadium at Lansdowne Road this evening. And the change of venue is not an issue for the home side, according to Horgan. "Most of us have played in the Aviva, I think Robbie Benson is the only one who hasn't, so we will be prepared," he says.
"Basically, it's another game, 11 v 11, you have to just do it on the pitch. Whether it's a full house or there's no crowd there, we just have to do our jobs."
Progress is very much on Horgan's mind. "Every young player dreams of playing in the Champions League, it's what you do every Tuesday and Wednesday night, you sit down and watch the best, big games in massive arenas. You think 'I'd love to play at that level at some stage' but you probably never will and the older you get, the more you realise that you're further and further away," the Galway native told The Herald.
"But there is a chance for us to play at that level, to play against the best, to play in the big stadiums against the best in the world, and if we can do that, beat Legia, we will deserve to be there. BATE was a real test but this will be even tougher."
Horgan, 24, has had very brief glimpses of another life in football, with a short (one cap) spell in the Ireland U21 side and trials in England, but this is a big deal.
"It's unfortunate that a lot of players have to go abroad to further their careers, it seems to be that, to get international recognition, you need to play outside of Ireland. But if you go to a club in League One in England, you'll never be at a club that can compete in the Champions League, even the Europa League would be a bridge too far," he said.
"The days of James McClean and Seamus Coleman going over and going straight into the team in the Premier League are gone. It's Championship or League One now where you're so far away from the Champions League, it's unreal. So this is a chance, young footballers in Ireland will be watching us this week and thinking 'why go to England when you can have a chance of making the group stages of the Champions League by playing in Ireland'.
"This might just be the lift that the League of Ireland has needed. But there's no point in talking about a lift that might happen, it's down to us to go and do it, it's going to be very difficult but it can be done."