“We’re in a positive frame of mind” – O’Donnell
Dundalk FC hit the road again tomorrow (Monday) on the next leg of their European roadshow, as the Lilywhites head to Slovakia ahead of Wednesday night’s UEFA Europa League third round qualifier with SK Slovan Bratislava.
The Slovakian capital city and its brand new national stadium – the NFS Tehelné pole – will welcome a Dundalk side looking to get back to winning ways after the disappointment of being knocked out of UEFA Champions League qualifying by Qarabag on Wednesday.
But, with a chance to qualify for a UEFA Europa League play-off – and with it a shot at a second group stage appearance in four years – chief opposition analyst Stephen O’Donnell says the players are in bouyant mood.
“I think everyone is in a positive frame of mind. With the quick turnaround no-one has time to reflect,” said the former Dundalk captain. “Whatever happened on Wednesday we were onto new opposition this week, so the work starts straight away after the final whistle.
“It’s our job as staff to get the players as fully prepared as possible come Wednesday night. We got straight down to business and we’ve had a very good weekend. The boys are all in a positive frame of mind and are looking forward to Wednesday night.”
Slovan Bratislava reached this stage by overcoming Kosovan champions Feronikeli 4-1 on aggregate in the second qualifying round, having lost to Montenegron champions Sutjeska in the first round of UEFA Champions League qualifying.
Last night they won 3-0 at eighth-placed FK Senica, which sees them top the Slovak First Football League after three games, as they bid to retain a title they won by a massive 17 points last season.
In his new role, O’Donnell has already spent a lot of time watching and studying the Slovaks in preparation for Wednesday’s game and he is under no illusions about the tough test that lies in wait for Dundalk.
“At this stage it’s very rare that you’ll get a poor team, so they are a good side obviously. No different to the last team we played. They’ve a lovely stadium – the national stadium – and a big budget, so they’ve players from all over Europe,” he said.
“They were probably unlucky to get beaten in the Champions League. They went out on penos after probably being the better team. They’ve got lots of attacking threats that we have to be ready for. That’s our job as staff over the weekend to get the players as fully tuned in as possible.”
Having skippered the Lilywhites through most of their famous European run in 2016, O’Donnell has been at the heart of many big European nights for Dundalk over the years.
But now, as chief opposition analyst, his role takes him away from the cut and thrust of the action as he travels Europe separately from the squad to scout and study our potential opponents.
So while the Dundalk squad and all of his colleagues in the management and backroom teams prepare to fly out to Bratislava tomorrow afternoon, O’Donnell will be waiting on the news from the play-off draw that takes place in Nyon at 12:30pm (IST) before finding out his next destination.
So much of a driving force on the field as a player, O’Donnell’s new role provides a very different experience to that which he’s been used to over the years, but it’s a job that he is relishing and learning a lot from.
“As you said, it is different,” he said. “I suppose the feelings that you get in the dressing room after a real satisfying win, like the night the lads won on penalties in Riga; I was in Azerbaijan that night, so it’s different being hours away somewhere else in Europe when things like that are happening.
“But I’m really enjoying going around and seeing different styles of play, being at different European games. I suppose this time of year is the most enjoyable and interesting aspect of the job.
“More often than not you have a good idea about who you are playing against domestically, but when you get into Europe, you have two or three days to prepare, a whole new style of play and clubs or players that you’ve never seen – that’s when the real work starts.
“But hopefully I’m busy with plenty more European games this season. That’s the plan. It’s not something you complain about. That’s what you want. The more times I go around watching matches in Europe, that means the more games we’re playing in Europe, so that’s the aim.”
You can listen to the full interview on Dundalk FC’s Soundcloud page, via the player below.