Dundalk unlock the key to Europa League riches for a second time

League of Ireland side guaranteed €3m after seeing off Faroe Islands' KI at Aviva Stadium 
Dundalk unlock the key to Europa League riches for a second time

Daniel Kelly scores Dundalk's third goal at Aviva Stadium. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Europa League play-off: Dundalk 3 KÍ 1

KÍ KO'd. Job done. It was made abundantly clear to Filippo Giovagnoli when he took over as Dundalk manager in late August that a place in the Europa League group stages was the be all and end all for the club's American owners.

Their Airtricity League title has since been conceded to Shamrock Rovers in the most straightforward fashion with the Hoops beating a reserve side 4-0 at Oriel Park last weekend, yet it's Dundalk who will go down as the season's biggest winners.

This one-legged victory, against a side hailing from a fishing town of 5,000 souls in the Faroe Islands, opens the door to those group stages and all it's riches. In simple terms, it amounts to a cash injection of just less than €3m and another €190,000 per point on top from here on in.

It marks only the third time that an Irish side has managed it. Rovers were the intrepid explorers back in 2011 and Dundalk's first venture was made back in 2016 when they squared up to Zenit Saint Petersburg, AZ Alkmaar and Maccabi Tel Aviva.

And did themselves more than proud. This isn't as strong a side as the Stephen Kenny version that claimed four points from its opening two group games back then but ponderings on how this squad will fare going forward are for another day.

If anything, this result and the financial spinoff from it could help rejuvenate a side, a club, and a project launched by owners Peak6 that had hit some turbulence, most notably around the time that Vinny Perth left the club.

Giovagnoli had himself described this as an opportunity to extract some of the knives that were lodged in his back when he arrived from New York and footballing obscurity to take over from Perth. Box ticked, he will feel.

Giovagnoli made two changes to the side that had accounted for Sheriff Tiraspol via a penalty shootout in the last round, both of them enforced, thanks to Chris Shields' suspension and the injury Sean Gannon had picked up in Transnistria.

Into the side came Patrick McEleney, whose own injury had limited him to a substitute's brief in that game, as well as the Serbian winger Stefan Colovic, who had also contributed off the bench seven days earlier.

The expectation was that KÍ, who had beaten Dinamo Tbilisi 6-1 in the last round on only 29% possession, would sit deep and look to hit a pressing home side on the counter but the opening minutes threw up a mirror image of that.

Dundalk found themselves under some pressure and clearing their lines at least twice in the opening exchanges and  their first opportunity came on the break with Patrick Hoban nudging a header a few feet wide of the post.

McEleney had a curler palmed away from the keeper soon after but those early encouragements came to nothing as Giovagnoli's side proved to be careless with the ball on far too many occasions and lacked the sort of tempo that could dislodge a settled rearguard.

“Quick. Quick. Quick,” said goalkeeper Gary Rogers time and again but they had little to show for all their possession through the first half-hour, aside from one searching free kick from Michael Duffy that was nodded away from two attackers by Jakup Andreasen.

The opening goal came from the far side 33 minutes in via a Sean Hoare cross from deep. A cushioned Hoban header left it floating invitingly and Sean Murray nodded in to an empty net before the advancing keeper got a glove to it.

KÍ made huge profit from setpieces against Tbilisi but there were whisperings that they were vulnerable at the other end and Dundalk made it 2-0 just after the break when a Duffy corner caused havoc close in and Daniel Cleary hoofed the bobbling ball into the net.

So far so comfortable but Irish sides don't tend to do easy in Europe and KÍ had three good chances to peg one back after some sloppy play by Greg Slogett before Ole Erik Midtskogen stuck one past Rogers via a deflection of a defending heel.

You play with fire, you get burned.

That left 25 minutes to chew through and mails were down a quick when Rogers turned a Joannes Bjartalid shot around the post and shortly after again when Patrik Johannesen fresh-aired a brilliant pullback with space to spare and the goal at his mercy.

Johannesen's regrets would have mounted seconds later when Dundalk broke, Murray slid through a perfectly weighted ball behind a rendered back line and Daniel Kelly stroked it home to make it 3-1 with just over ten minutes to play.

KÍ, aiming to be the first side from their country to make the group stages, kept pressing. Odmar Faero pulled a stunning close-range save out of Rogers at one point but that was the last of the scares. Dundalk's night. And, in a way, Dundalk's year.

Dundalk: G Rogers; S Hoare, B Gartland, D Cleary, D Leahy; S Murray, G Slogett, P McEleney; S Colovic, P Hoban, M Duffy.

Subs: D Kelly for Colovic and D McMillan for Hoban (both 71); J Mountney for McEleney (81).

KÍ: K Joensen; D Pavlovic, O Faere, J Brinck; J Andreasen, H Vatnsdal, J Bjartalid, P Johannesen; OE Midtskogen, P Klettskard, J Danielsen.

Subs: B Dosljak for Klettskard (56); J Johannesen for Pavlovic (87).

Referee: M Mariani (Italy).

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