Patrick McEleney insists Dundalk will relish shouldering a weight of expectation in Europe this season.
The Derryman helped tee up the prospect of another tantalising continental adventure after playing his part in Wednesday’s shootout win in Latvia.
Bigger tests lie in store but the significance of that tight win cannot be overstated as it has opened up money spinning opportunities in the weeks ahead.
And first up is a clash with group stage regulars Qarabag at Oriel Park on Wednesday, with the return in Baku a week later.
Even if Dundalk lose, they will be catapulted into the Europa League third qualifying round where they will take Qarabag’s seeding.
Progress through that round and they would be just one tie away from a group stage return.
But McEleney is not thinking about that and only has eyes for the Champions League, with Dundalk dreaming of becoming the first Irish side to smash that glass ceiling.
“There’s an expectancy on us to do well and Wednesday was probably the first time an Irish team had pressure on them like that,” he said.
“We’re now expected to win games in the Champions League, but Riga were a stiff, rigid side and we couldn’t break through them.
“But we got over the line. We put ourselves under huge pressure to do well in Europe because we want to be the best we can be and do as well as possible for our league.”
McEleney continued: “Qarabag will be difficult opponents but it’s a free shot for us and it could suit us playing the better sides.
“Riga were rigid but there’s space against the good sides and it’s a game that we’re really looking forward to.”
Two years ago, Dundalk dug out an away goals Champions League win against FH in Iceland to spark their run to the Europa League groups.
McEleney was new to the club then but featured in both games and he saw familiar traits in Wednesday’s win in Riga.
“We got over the line in Iceland by finding a way over there and it was similar again the other night – we developed a will to find a way.
“We’ve a lot of experience in Europe now. Gary Rogers equalled the record for appearances and myself and Chris Shields have over 20 games each in Europe.
“It’s just a bit of know how and an understanding of what to do in certain arenas. It’s going to stand to us.
“We always seem to find a way and we’ve been finding a way all of this year at times. It’s down to our character.
“I think another run in Europe is in our sights. We always want to do well in Europe. We’re over the line and we have to step it up a wee bit now.”
But McEleney knows the Lilywhites will need their ace winger Michael Duffy back in the mix if they are to make inroads.
And that starts on Wednesday when Qarabag hit Oriel Park.
Duffy missed the trip to Latvia as his partner Emily went into labour and gave birth to a boy during the second-half of extra-time.
Duffy still managed to nip out of the ward in time to catch the penalty shootout on his phone.
And afterwards, he called his close pal and fellow Derryman McEleney.
“We missed Mickey Duffy – he was a big miss and actually it was quite selfish of him!
“Ah, no I’m just joking. I spoke to him straight after the game and he said he sprinted out to watch the penalties.
“It was a brilliant night for him and he’s just buzzing with everything that happened, but it’ll be good to have him back.”
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