Stephen O’Donnell knows a thing or two about a good European campaign.
The Dundalk skipper was part of the Shamrock Rovers side that made history by becoming the first Irish side to qualify for the Europa League proper in 2011.
O’Donnell played a major part in the run, scoring the winning penalty against Partizan Belgrade that secured the Hoops their progress to the lucrative group stages where they met Rubin Kazan, PAOK and Tottenham Hotspur.
Rovers’ journey began with a victory over Flora Tallinn in the Champions League first qualifying round. Victory in that round ensured another four European ties and O’Donnell said there is no reason why this current Dundalk side should not be aiming for
a similar outcome.
“With this squad, we’re aiming to get to the group stages but winning the first game is crucial,” he told McGuinness Bar at the launch of the Lilywhite Supporters Club last Thursday night.
“Every year you see Irish teams going into Europe, looking for a big tie to make a few bob, and then going out but this squad wants to make its mark and do something in Europe.”
Dundalk made significant progress in Europe last season, winning three of their four games before bowing out to Hajduk Split, 3-2 on aggregate, despite beating the Croatian giants in their own stadium.
“The thing that got on my wick is that their crowd stayed back after that game and applauded us off as though we were a team that were going to Croatia to get rolled over. It was almost ‘good job lads, now get back to Ireland’,” remarked O’Donnell.
“I think it’s time now for Irish teams to go and start beating teams in their own back yard on a regular basis. Instead of getting pats on the back for getting knocked out, let’s get the fans throwing chairs at their team because we’ve beaten them.”
“I hate the thought of European teams thinking that Irish clubs are a soft touch,” he continued.
“Physically, fitness wise and ability wise we can beat a lot of teams as we seen in Hajduk Split last year so let’s forget about getting the big teams and having two games before you’re out, let’s aim for the group stages and try and establish ourselves.”