“There is a flight leaving this evening (Tuesday) or tomorrow morning so it's one or the other.” That was the opening line from Vinny Perth at the press conference in Riga following the news on Monday that winger Michael Duffy didn’t travel to Riga
“There is a flight leaving this evening (Tuesday) or tomorrow morning so it's one or the other.”
That was the opening line from Vinny Perth at the press conference in Riga following the news on Monday that winger Michael Duffy didn’t travel to Riga as planned ahead of the crunch first-round qualifier in Latvia tonight. The player got a sudden call from his partner who is currently expecting their first child and made a dash home from Dublin Airport to Derry to be by her side. While no word has come through of a baby Lilywhite as of yet but Perth is optimistic the talented midfielder could make it for the match.
Is it a big decision to come to Riga with all that is going on?
“It's a massive decision,” explained Perth
“People answer that different depending on your opinion, your first child is obviously different than the second child - they shouldn’t be but it is.”
Perth knowing the importance of fatherhood left the decision to the player “You don’t get involved with these decisions, you leave it to the players to make that decision, 90% of the time the players make the right decision of what is right for their life and that’s the way I would look at it.”
Vinny has trust and faith in his players and especially in Michael to whom they have a strong bond, either way, Vinny knows the choices Duffy makes are the right one's complicity.
“Myself and Michael have been really close and have been for a couple of years so it was very easy to have this discussion with him. Michael isn’t somebody you necessarily pressure, he probably wouldn’t react well to be put under any sort of pressure.
"His decision is a life decision, we all want to make football decisions over the next 24 hours so I fully respect every decision he makes. To be fair to him he will be making it in conjunction with ourselves and we know exactly what is happening.
"We have got plans B, C and D so we are prepared if later on this evening (Tuesday) and they are two hours behind us at home if he gets the flight later on this evening or the flight first thing in the morning so we are prepared for it but we are also prepared him not being here and we worked on that.
“This stuff is unpredictable, nature is nature - you are hoping it's going to happen half ten on a Sunday night and be all over by eleven o’clock but it doesn’t work that way, I accept it’s a story and he is important to us and we do like him and we love him as player but I think the way the squad is we can afford to miss a player now”
The work on the training ground is always focused to hone in on the talents of key players but also to factor changes to the playing environment, as is always the case to a perfectly crafted plan a curveball arrives at the very last minute, but such is Perth’s attention to detail no stone was left unturned for Riga.
“On Saturday we practised with him out of the team” explained Dundalk’s head coach “And it’s for eventualities like this. Not all of our players are waiting to have babies but we have had a lot of injuries this year so we have had to change how we train so it won’t be that alien to the lads because the shape we had done on Saturday there was two different players involved in the shape of the left-wing, so we are prepared for it”
When Duffy arrived at Oriel, he had big boots to fill vacated by the impressive Irish International Daryl Horgan. Following the 2016 European adventure, it was a thankless task to take the mantle of the vacated Number 7 shirt. It sometimes takes players a while to bed into Oriel, some commented that he wasn’t good enough…how wrong they were…
“When we signed Michael it took a couple of months to settle in but I think the ease in which he signed back for the club summed it all up for me at the time, he had different options and everyone was worried whether he would leave or not but I think his character means he is really comfortable here. We are glad to have him and Micky loves this club and he loves the players and you know by his character he just loves it here. He won’t be making any decision lightly over the last twenty-four hours because he is so close to the group so his performances have meant that very few ask me questions about Daryl Horgan anymore. Since he has left he has slotted into that spot and he has been every bit as good as what Daryl was before so that is probably the best praise that I can give him”
So what are Vinny’s options if the talented winger doesn’t make the plane to Riga?
“Without giving too much away the options are A, B or C!” explained Perth
Giving no food for thought for Riga it seems.
“We have worked on A.B and C and D because Michael is obviously planning A. We have three other options and we have three other systems to play and we have worked on”
Focus turns to Riga and attentions to vying for a Champions League Second Round Qualification place with a trip to Albania or Azerbaijan on the cards for the winners of this tie, all eyes are on Latvia and its current champions.
“They play with two numbers sixes, big guys and I expect both of them to play and one of those sixes will join into the play and become a number eight as such, to a point we expect Rizola to back in the number ten he played for an hour the other night, he is a really good player but then he is very similar to Roger who played in the number ten position. There is maybe one other chance on the right-wing but other than that I expect it to be very similar in terms of styles, the full-backs do get forward but there is a method to how they get forward. They will be a little bit more attack-minded, I think Oriel suits teams to come up and make things a little bit difficult for us but I think this pitch will probably suit us better.”
The famous 2016 European campaign still lingers on everyone's minds and can Dundalk go on yet another European adventure. In a little village in Iceland of Hafnarfjordur, it almost ended before it even began. Dundalk went through virtue of the away goals rule in a 2-2 draw that was manic in its play and design. Will they draw on that experience to progress?
“The madness of the FH game at the time, we were up and down and behind, who knows? The only thing in terms of these European games we seldom, I think we have only done it once where we were really comfortable. I think this game will go to the last half an hour to get the winner out of the tie so I expect the same.”
With the excitement also comes the pressure, players such as Daniel Kelly, Georgie Kelly and Sean Murray will get their first real taste of what entails in a winner takes all European tie. While progression benefits Dundalk in the Champions League it all benefits the backstop of a place in the Europa League, with every round progressed means a step closer to European football.
“It is in the sense that if you win, you’re into the third round of the Europa League, the players want to be in Europe. Also as a group, we are very realistic and its the fine margins at this level and there is very little difference. Going back to the FH game, we won the game by the skin of our teeth and everyone remembers that we were this amazing team in 2016 but we really had to go to the well to get through. And we could have lost 4-0 away to BATE (Borisov) as well but the final moments are crucial. We have a lot of experience in the group and there is going to be periods where we are under a bit of pressure but we got to take the experience from the FH game and BATE to kick in.”
Another famous night on the cards is in store for either side tonight. Riga can progress for the first time in their short history or Dundalk can begin what is hoped to be another summer of adventure and wonder.
It will be a simple case of who wants it more.