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Stephen O’Donnell has called on Dundalk’s experienced Eurostars to lead by example when the Lilywhites begin their UEFA Europa Conference League campaign against FCB Magpies in Gibraltar.

Thursday’s game at the Victoria Stadium will be the first time that a number of Dundalk players have tasted European action and the former Lilywhites captain said that the presence of the likes of Andy Boyle, Darragh Leahy, Patrick Hoban, Greg Sloggett and Daniel Kelly, who played in the UEFA Europa League group stages in 2020, would be invaluable.

Referring to Dundalk’s European history, O’Donnell said: “The name doesn’t count for loads because success in Europe was achieved by previous teams and individuals that have gone by.

“For most of our group, playing in Europe is new and like all Irish teams, we will have to play very, very well to progress through. I’ve yet to see an Irish team progressing by being totally in their comfort zone and playing in second or third gear in Europe.

“In that sense, the experience some of our lads have is huge. That’s par for the course when you become more experienced. The key is to sort of hand it down and pass down that information to the more inexperienced or younger players.

“We’ll be well prepared, well versed and clear in our idea of what we want to do, in and out of possession. Then, it’s about dealing with the heat and how we approach the game and how we can execute what we’re looking to achieve.”

After arriving in Gibraltar on Tuesday, O’Donnell took in the UEFA Champions League qualifier between Lincoln Red Imps and Qarabag and he said it offered a glimpse as to what Dundalk can expect on Thursday evening when the game gets underway at 6pm local time with the temperature expected to be thirty-degrees plus.

“The game was played on the same pitch as ours will be played so it was just to get a feel for the venue and watch the game,” he said. “It was a slow-tempo game because of the heat. It’s very, very, very warm over here which is another sort of obstacle we’ll have to deal with but it’ll be the same for both teams.

Dundalk players enjoying a coffee in the Gibraltar sunshine ahead of the UEFA Europa Conference League tie with FCB Magpies. Photo by Gerry Scully

“It was really important that we got out here on Tuesday and had a full day to sort of recover, acclimatise, and get ready and we’re really looking forward to it now.”

Obtaining information on FCB Magpies has proved to be difficult. The 2023 Gibaltarian Rock Cup winners are still in pre-season – they played Preston North End last week – and have undergone a number of changes over the break, bringing in a new Spanish head coach, Alfonso Cortijo Cabrera, who played with the great Diego Maradona at Sevilla in the mid-nineties.

“There are pluses and minuses,” said O’Donnell. “We are match fit which is a plus but the minus is that we’re two-thirds of the way through our season and the opposition can see basically all of our footage.

“Magpies would have everything they’d want and need to know regarding us, whereas we’ve one friendly to go off where they made a lot of changes at halftime. They have a new coach from last year and a lot of new players and we only have footage of one game from last week.

“Is that the same way they will approach our game tomorrow? What team will they play? There are a lot of variables and a lot of things that we can’t predict but our game plan won’t differ too much and we just need to be fully focused on ourselves.”

Around 300 plus Dundalk supporters are expected to be at the Victoria Stadium on Thursday and O’Donnell said it was important that they got behind the team.

“We need the crowd with us,” he said. “It’s going to be physically draining and people should never underestimate what that extra little ‘oomph’ from supporters can give the players physically.

“It can make them bite down when they’re going through a little bit of a tough phase in the game from a fatigue aspect and from an aspect.”

Team News: Keith Ward is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines after injuring his knee in the 3-2 defeat against Bohemians last Friday while John Martin is doubtful. Cameron Elliott, Robbie Benson and John Mountney are absent. New signing Darren Brownlie has travelled and met up with the squad in Gibraltar but will not feature.