Vinny Perth believes that Dundalk can land an uppercut of giant proportions when they meet Qarabag in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier at Oriel Park next week.
The Lilywhites set up a second-round showdown with the Azerbaijani kingpins with a penalty shootout win over Riga on Wednesday night.
Qarabag qualified for the group stages of the Champions League in 2017 where they finished bottom of a group that involved Roma, Atletico Madrid, and Chelsea. Last season, they qualified for the Europa League where they were pitted against Sporting Lisbon, Arsenal and Vorskla Poltava.
A Dundalk win would send shockwaves around Europe but the Lilywhites head coach said there was no reason his side could not claim another famous scalp.
“Some people outside of Dundalk don’t realise that we’re a provincial town with the guts of 40,000 people,” said Perth. “We’re fairly boxing above our weight at the minute and we’ll be doing our best to try and make that continue.
“Qarabeg are a top, top side but we’ll be prepared to step up a level and the game might actually suit us a bit more. Riga were very dogged and didn’t leave a lot of space. It’ll be a proper game next week and this is the level we all want to be playing at so we’re really looking forward to it.”
Stephen O’Donnell was at both legs of Qarabag’s first-round win over Albanian side Partizani while Perth and assistant coach Ruaidhri Higgins spent the flight home from Latvia watching footage of the first-leg.
“We’ll be very well prepared for them and if we can beat them, we’ll take their seeding into the third round of the Champions League,” said Perth. “That’s what our players demanded and wanted at the start of the season. They wanted to be driven that way.”
Dundalk’s attention to detail certainly paid off in Latvia. Perth, along with goalkeeping coach Steve Williams and performance analyst David Maguire, spent two hours watching videos of Riga players taking penalties. That laid the groundwork for Gary Rogers, who equalled Ollie Cahill’s record of 41 European appearances, to make two fantastic saves in the shootout.
“I insist on the staff doing their homework and that paid dividends,” said Perth. “We watched videos from as far as six or seven years back but Gary still had to make the saves.
“It’s alright knowing where somebody might put a penalty but he still had to save them and it’s fantastic that he did it on a night that he equalled the record.”
There were memorable scenes at the end of the game with a jubilant Perth, along with his players and staff, embracing the 400 plus supporters who made the trip to Latvia.
“I ended up fairly emotional at the end,” said the Dubliner. “As a staff, we’ve been probably been questioned because there was such a big change in the club over the winter and that emotion probably came out.
“Although I kept it quiet in the build-up, myself, John Gill and Ruaidhri Higgins probably felt a little bit of pressure internally. If we win the league this year, people will say ‘big deal, they have the best this, best that, etc’ so to stay in Europe for another two rounds is fantastic.”
Chairman Mike Treacy and investor Fred Spencer were in Latvia to witness the scenes and Perth also had kind words for PEAK6 CEO Matt Hulsizer, who was at the first leg in Oriel Park seven nights earlier.
“I met with Matt last week,” he said. “He is an inspiring man and he filled me and the staff full of confidence. Sometimes our club gets knocked but our club is in unbelievable hands.”
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