Dundalk FC head coach Vinny Perth, John Gill (first-team coach) and Ruaidhrí Higgins, assistant manager, during a game at Oriel Park. (Pic: Sportsfile)
Dundalk FC first-team coach John Gill is hoping “the draw is kind to us”, with Ireland’s UEFA Champions League representatives set to learn their destination for the first qualifying round in next Tuesday’s draw.
Champions in four of the past five seasons, Dundalk are used to playing in Europe’s elite competition. However, unlike previously, they now have the safety net of the UEFA Europa League second qualifying round should they be eliminated at the first hurdle.
Gill, though, is dreaming big with this group, who he says are “so self-driven and striving to get better every game, every training”.
The Lilywhites are seeded for the draw, meaning that they will avoid old foes BATE Borisov and Rosenborg, as well as Celtic. Potential opponents include Linfield, CFR Cluj of Romania and Poland’s Piast Gliwice.
This will be Gill’s second taste of Europe, having been assistant to Pete Mahon when St. Patrick’s Athletic went through two rounds of the Europa League in 2011 before bowing out to Ukrainian club Karpaty Lviv.
“I’ve been involved once before in Europe, with St. Pat’s, and had a good run in it,” he recalled.
“The European nights are special. The fans look forward to it. The players are certainly looking forward to it, without taking their eye off the bread and butter, which is the league.
“I’m really excited by it. I just hope the draw is kind to us and that we can get off to a decent start in it. It would be nice to go a couple of rounds in it.
“Everyone saw the excitement that this group of players have given the club the last few years. That’s what we want. We’re representing Dundalk, but we’re also representing the country, and I would like to think that everybody in the country will get behind us and wish us well.”
Dundalk are not back in league action until the end of the month when they travel to Shamrock Rovers.
Welcoming Waterford (July 1) and a trip to Derry City (July 5) is also on the league agenda before Europe rolls around on July 9/10. They will gear up for that busy schedule with four days’ training this week followed by a warm-weather camp in Spain.
“We are going to Spain because it gives us a chance to get a bit of quality work done before we come back, in really good conditions,” Gill added.
“We can keep one eye on the European game. We’ll be focussing on the Shamrock Rovers game, but the staff, we’ll do a lot of work on our European opponents on that trip. It gives us a chance to look at a lot of DVDs.
“Stephen O’Donnell will be a busy man. We’re looking forward to Europe and we look forward to the second half of the season.”
Gill also revealed that injured midfield trio Jamie McGrath, Seán Murray and Robbie Benson – the latter absent since the first day of the season – will resume full training and soon be available to make their returns.
“They’re nearly back now,” he said. “They will train this week and they’ll all take part fully in Spain. They’re like new signings. People are saying ‘are we going to add to the squad’. Well, we are – it’s like signing three quality players.
“We’re going to need them because, if we do well in Europe – which I’d like to think that we will – it’s going to be a hectic schedule and we’re going to need everybody available for that.”
The Champions League second qualifying round draw will also be made next Tuesday in Nyon, where Dundalk’s potential path to the Promised Land will become a lot clearer.