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Saturday 14 December 2019

McEleney's Dutch courage

Dundalk midfielder doesn't see Slovan level as being intimidating

Looking ahead: Patrick McEleney knows what possibly lies in wait for Dundalk
Looking ahead: Patrick McEleney knows what possibly lies in wait for Dundalk

Ajax, the Amsterdam Arena and the Aviva Stadium have been dangled in front of the players of Dundalk FC as a possible prize for further success in European competition.

But while Dundalk midfielder Patrick McEleney admits that a date with the Dutch giants, who reached the semi-final stage of the Champions League only 13 weeks ago, at Lansdowne Road is something to aim for, the focus for the Co Louth club this week is very much on Slovan Bratislava.

The Dundalk squad arrived in the Slovakian capital last night to prepare for tomorrow's battle with Slovan, the one-time giants of the game here who have fallen on hard times of late, with their manager paying the price of failure by getting the sack as a result of their first-round exit in the Champions League.

Dundalk are also out of the Champions League but they retain an interest in the competition as, should they get past Slovan in the third qualifying round of the Europa League, their fourth-round opponents would be the losing side from the Champions League tie between Ajax and PAOK.

"It'd be nice to get Ajax and maybe play it in the Aviva, and go to the Amsterdam Arena, but we have to take care of this round first," Derry native McEleney told The Herald in Bratislava last night.

"Ajax would be expected to get through, they got to the Champions League semis last season and they have had a great pre-season so they seem to be flying, you'd fancy their chances of winning their round.

"But even to play PAOK would be something to aim for.

"I don't know if we would get to play them in the Aviva but as a player, you like rewards for doing well and that'd be a nice bonus," he added.

"But we can't think too much about that, we need to focus on Slovan. I think there is more to come from us and we can be a bit better going forward."

The concern for Dundalk's travelling support as they head to Slovakia is that lack of a cutting edge up front, just one goal scored in four European games so far.

The informal feedback on their opponents is that Slovan are a threat going forward but have weaknesses at the back, Dundalk boss Vinny Perth admitting that predicting the opponents' lineup is not easy.

"In their last six matches they have played three different shapes, their personnel tends to change," says Perth.

Slovan are an unknown quantity as their current boss is only in on a caretaker basis.

Martin Sevela was a hero for leading them the league title last season, their first in five seasons, but he was sacked after a Champions League first-round loss to opposition from Montenegro and their current manager, Ján Kozák, has been promoted from his role as reserve team boss.

McEleney expects Slovan's level to be in between that of first-round opponents Riga and their conquerors, Qarabag.

"Qarabag over there were a different animal, outstanding over there. We just couldn't get the ball from them and yet we could have won the home game. We were the better team in both games against Riga even, though we didn't score," he says.

"We have watched Slovan a bit and they are a threat, it's not an easy tie, people expected us to breeze past Riga, we beat them on penalties and they went on to knock out the Polish champions. Slovan have some good players, though their manager got sacked recently, so that's a sign that they expected to do well in the Champions League. But we want to progress as far as we can."

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