Maher Wants More European Nights
Dundalk midfielder Stephen Maher is hoping that his side can learn from the lessons of Levski Sofia and wants more European nights this time next year after admitting that their UEFA Europa League campaign is now at an end. The Lilywhites suffered a 6-0 defeat after being outclassed by the Bulgarian giants in Sofia on Thursday night, but Maher says that the experience should stand them in good stead for the future and he has challenged his teammates to go and qualify for Europe again next season.
“It’s a great lesson for us,” Maher told dundalkfc.com. “If the young lads can learn from this and come back better players and learn what it takes to be at that level, we can all collectively learn from this and we’ll be better players for it. The result was obviously very disappointing. We went over there and tried to prepare as best we could, but to be honest I think we were given a lesson. They were outstanding, they just kept the ball and I don’t think the central midfield players passed the ball over 20 yards, they just kept it every time, and the winger was unbelievable. Some of the goals maybe I think we could have prevented which is disappointing. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a goal. I could have had a goal or two myself, I thought the deflection was going in, and then obviously Stevie Lennon’s strike was so unlucky; it was just unfortunate, it wasn’t going to be our night.
“But we have a very young squad and we need to learn from it,” he added. “At this level, you don’t give the ball away. They showed that; once we gave it away they just kept coming at us and they were outstanding. It shows why they were in the Champions League only a few years ago, they had everything. You’ve got to forget about it now, obviously there is no chance of us going through, but the second leg is going to be another great experience for us. We should go out, learn from our mistakes and really take it to them in the next game. Maybe we stood off them a little bit in the first half, but having said that it was hard to get near them, they were so good. But in the second leg, they won’t like playing on our pitch, I know that, they won’t like the surroundings, they might rest players too as they know the tie is done, so there’s every chance that we can go out and make amends for the first leg result and give a maybe better, stronger team performance.”
Dundalk return to league action against one of Maher’s former clubs, Saint Patrick’s Athletic, at Oriel Park on Sunday evening (kick-off 7pm) hoping to put a difficult week behind them, and the 22-year-old wants to see a return to their early season form. “It’s great to have Peter (Cherrie) back, he made some unbelievable saves,” Maher said. “Obviously, it’s unfortunate for Matt Gregg; he was brilliant over the last few games. Hopefully, we’ll have Liam Burns back as well in the next week or so and we can get on with it. But it’s learning from this European experience and taking it into our league form, and we can get back up there and compete and hopefully get into the Europa League again next year. Maybe losing to Levski might prove a blessing in disguise – I know it’s terrible to go out of these competitions – but it might benefit us. We have such a small squad and the travelling and playing these games is really tough, so hopefully now we can focus on the two competitions we’re left in and really push on. The League Cup final is at stake to get to, so we still have a lot to look forward to.
“If it was 6-0 against a team at home you’d be very disappointed,” he concluded, “but it was a step-up in class for all of us, they’re a top, top team. You’d be in awe sometimes, some of the possession they kept. If we want to progress, the young lads especially, if they want to progress as footballers you’ve got to learn from this; you’ve got to learn to take care of the ball more, work harder, your movement off the ball, never stop for 90 minutes, and that’s what Levski showed. As much as 6-0 sounds bad, they are a fantastic team. I don’t think any team in our league would even compete with them. I think we’ve just got to learn from it. Even though it’s a bad defeat, it’s a great experience for us.” Dundalk remain without captain Liam Burns (abdomen) for the visit of St. Pat’s, but are able to welcome back Garry Breen and Fahrudin Kuduzovic after they served one-match suspensions in last weekend’s defeat by Shamrock Rovers, while new signing Steven Lennon is also in line for his league debut.