On a night of high emotions, Vinny Perth and is players emerged from the Skonto Stadium with yet another big European victory under their belts. The Dundalk Head Coach knew the pressure was on to progress but he firmly put his stamp on the belief t
On a night of high emotions, Vinny Perth and is players emerged from the Skonto Stadium with yet another big European victory under their belts.
The Dundalk Head Coach knew the pressure was on to progress but he firmly put his stamp on the belief the management set up he has assembled at Oriel Park was the right one for the club holistically.
This was a night in which Michael Duffy watched the penalties from home with a newborn baby cradled in his arms just born minutes beforehand and an unexpected call from Jose Mourhino to Vinny Perth, it just wasn’t a normal night a the office for Dundalk.
"I’m very emotional to be honest with you because as much as I hid it, I do know this management setup was questioned,” Vinny commented speaking to the press following the penalty shoot-out.
"This was a big game for us. It means we have at least six games in Europe to test ourselves and show what we’re about. That group were demanding Europe and demanding progression. To be honest it feels like a bit of pressure off the staff in terms of what we have achieved. We felt under pressure but not from the club, to be honest with you.
"I met the PEAK6 owner last week and it was an amazing meeting. He filled me with so much confidence and all the staff with confidence but we felt it internally. We really did. I know people with the changes in January people have questioned the structures in the club but I think with the amount of detail we went into the players were prepared.
"That was a proper game and people will snipe as they do but I think that was a proper game. They were a really big test and we came through it. We’re probably disappointed we haven’t scored over the two legs but they’re a really, really dogged side. They had a couple of chances as well but they defended really well.”
Patrick McEleney had two great chances to score in the first half, as the clock make it ways to ninety minutes the sense amounts those around the ground was that this was going all the way. Did Vinny had an idea it could go to that?
“Yeah. I felt we defended well and I didn’t really see a goal for either team unless there was a mistake. There were a couple of things we should have done better. I wouldn’t say we’ve hid it but you can see the fatigue in our central midfield which has been a problem for us this year in terms of injuries and different bits and pieces.
"People are getting back to where they should be. You can see the benefits of squad rotation because Jarvis came in and Murray was able to come back in and Kelly was a real, real threat on the night and he really stretched them which got us back in the game because we had lost momentum at some stage. It’s a wonderful night.”
While this wasn’t Vinny first European night in Dundalk, it was his first as head coach and with that the added pressure of leading a side full of talent and vigour. Is this the night where he now has the win under him and he can take off the shackles.
“Yeah, maybe. I think they’re a good side and I wouldn’t underplay the strength they have in terms of how good of a side they are and how physically imposing the team is with the two sixes in front of the back four.
"I just felt we lacked a little bit of quality in the two games in the final third. That’s something we can work on. It wasn’t that we didn’t get into the final third, we did. Our general play was quite good but it just needed a little spark from somebody on these nights and we just didn’t get it tonight but we certainly weren’t lucky over the two legs in any way, shape or form.”
Next up is a 5,292km trip from Dundalk to Baku, host of the UEFA Europa League Final, Dundalk will take on a new giant in European football Qarabag FK.
“Yeah in many ways it might suit us a little bit better in terms of the fact we played against a team who sat in for the first game and in the first half again tonight, albeit they were a bit more expansive.
"It might suit us a little bit more that it’s a different type of game. Stephen O’Donnell is over there tonight and we’ve watched their last two games. We will be well prepared so we’ll move onto them in the next two or three hours.”
Dundalk drew on all the experience gained from previous European encounters to overcome Riga, Vinny drew this inspiration from another dogged result which helped Dundalk progress in the Champions League - That team from Iceland FH.
“Yeah, that’s a difficult one. I actually thought about that today. You can talk about world domination and we’ll dominate this and that but we have a really tough tie. The only thing is we’ve given ourselves a chance. If we progress we have a great opportunity but if we do go out of this competition we’ll take Qarabag’s seeding into the third round so we’ve given ourselves a chance. We’ve still got something to prove I think. It wasn’t vintage Dundalk in them two games but I think we’re in a good place in terms of the squad and heading into Europe and with one eye on stuff domestically we’re quite comfortable where we stand.”
Is there more to come from Vinny’s side? One could argue with all the injuries his side has been succumbed to that maybe he hasn’t picked his best side of yet. Is there another gear that this team can crank up to?
“Yeah, it does encourage me. I said to the lads that I felt that the fatigue in central midfield and the challenges we’ve had there this year probably hurt us but we got through that game so I think those players will benefit from that. That’s one area where we can be better. We’ve got into the final third on many an occasion in the two ties and we were probably a bit of quality short here and there. It does encourage us that we’re slowly but surely building towards what we think we can be. I just don’t want to compare us to 2016. I think we’re a different side and have a slightly different makeup.”
Penalty shoot-outs by definition are a lottery. It’s a case of he who blinks first, Gary Rogers didn’t blink and pulled off two magnificent saves to win the tie for Dundalk…All Sean Hoare had to do was score his part.
“Of course yeah. Penalty shoot-outs… that’s the bit of luck I’d say we haven’t had this year. Some people will say differently but we’ve done our homework as well. We’ve probably spent an hour or an hour and a half today watching penalty kicks as far back as six years ago from some of their players. David Maguire, our analyst, Steve Williams and Gary deserve huge credit for tonight. They’ve went the right way and that’s not luck. There’s a bit of quality in that from Gary.”
Gary Rogers doesn’t get many plaudits from some areas but that suits him fine and Vinny wants to keep it that way.
“We’ll leave him under the radar that suits him. He does enough press and he’s chairman of the PFAI so we’d like to keep him under the radar a bit more, to be honest with you. It’s wonderful for him with the amount of times he has played in Europe. He equalled a European record tonight so he does Irish football proud.”
Sean Hoare had the envious job of putting the winning penalty away, Riga has bad memories for the defender and it was the perfect way to banish them, he also put in a crucial block to stop Delbelko with a goal-scoring chance, some are calling him the colossus of Oriel perhaps?
“Did you? Okay because we’d have a different view. Some of his passing wasn’t as good as Sean can be but in terms of his defensive qualities that’s what he gives us. His recovery pace and in the air, he’s really good. We’d like him to be better and that’s part of our centre-halves being better in terms of stepping out. That will be part of how we fix being more dynamic in the final third. I think that’s an area we can work on. With him and Andy it was a difficult call tonight because for us internally in the club Dan Cleary along with Sean Gannon has been our Player of the Year so we’ve got real competition and Sean, as I said defensively, was excellent tonight but I think he can be better on the ball and we’ll challenge him to do that.”
Michael Duffy had a few airline tickets with his name on them - they were left unused and the seat vacated on the plane. The midfielder was busy welcoming his son to the world as the team welcoming the second round qualifiers to Oriel. He no doubts will be back next week.
“We were fairly sure the baby was going to be born late last night. We had plans to get him here and there were a couple of flights booked but nature just took over and it didn’t happen. We’ve given him a rest for next week.”
In the last twist of the tale was a FaceTime phone call just after the final whistle, Vinny Perth was handed a phone by a staff member and on facing him was a hero of his - Jose Mourinho.
“Yeah, Jose just rang. I was a bit emotional as you heard at the start and then that added to it because he’s just a hero of mine. I know people question what he has done in the last couple of years but for me, he has always been a hero so for him to ring and congratulate me was a surreal moment. It was a weird moment but that on top of the pressure that the staff internally felt. We felt pressure tonight as a staff, not from the club but from ourselves. It was a real special moment.”