Local lad Ryan O’Kane is looking forward to his first taste of European football at Oriel Park when FCB Magpies come to town on Thursday night.
The 19-year-old made his European debut for the club as a 69th-minute substitute in the UEFA Europa Conference League tie against Welsh side Newtown in Shropshire back in the summer of 2021, a game that was played in front of a restricted crowd due to Covid-19.
His first European start for the club came in the 0-0 draw with the Magpies in Gibraltar last week and speaking ahead of the second leg, he said he couldn’t wait to sample the atmosphere of a proper European night on the Carrick Road.
“I was involved as a sub against Newtown but it didn’t feel like a European game whereas last week was a proper game,” he said. “It felt really good to start in Gibraltar and hopefully the second leg will be even better.
“It’s crazy to think we haven’t had a European night at Oriel since Qarabag in 2019. Obviously, in 2020 and 2021 there was Covid, so it’s going to be brilliant having a crowd behind us.
“For so many years we were so used to coming up to European games and it’s great to have that back again. This game has a different feel to it. It means so much to me. It’s going to be massive and I can’t wait for it.”
The Dundalk squad trained at Oriel Park on Wednesday morning and Lilywhites head coach Stephen O’Donnell said his players were determined to finish the job and book their place in the second qualifying round against Icelandic side KA Akureyri or Welsh outfit Connah’s Quay Nomads.
“Oriel Park has been starved of European football since 2019 so there should be a really good atmosphere and we’re really looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s all to play for and the tie has to be won on the night so it’s a night we really want to savour.
“It’s a huge week for the club. After Thursday, we have an FAI Cup tie against Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park on Sunday; two huge games in the space of four days, but our full focus is on the Magpies.
“We want to be on a plane to Iceland or Wales next week for the second round. As a player, you want to be churning out games in Europe and travelling around Europe every second week. It makes you feel like a proper footballer.
“We’ll approach Thursday night in the right way and, hopefully, we get that little bit of luck and play to our ability which will give us a great chance of getting through.”
Team News: Keith Ward joins Robbie Benson and John Mountney on the injury list but Cameron Elliott is hoping to be part of the matchday squad. New signing Darren Brownlie will not be involved as he builds up his fitness following his move from Partick Thistle.