After sampling the delights of two Europa League group stages in five years, David McMillan feels “hard done by” at Dundalk’s new Conference League plight.
Uefa’s decision to introduce a third club competition for this season heightens the chances of progression for participants from smaller leagues but McMillan bemoans the dilution of quality.
The Lilywhites face Levadia Tallinn in tonight’s second round, first leg at Tallaght Stadium (8pm), aiming to set up a meeting with Vitesse from the Netherlands. Having encountered Arsenal last season and Zenit St Petersburg on their previous Europa League group stage experience in 2016, McMillan believes League of Ireland participants are being left short-changed by Uefa’s restructure.
“People keep asking me why we’re not in the Europa League; what’s with this Conference?” the striker, who last week became the league’s record scorer in Europe, said.
“I feel a little hard done by. They even brought in an extra round to qualify in the Champions League a few years ago.
“Now Shamrock Rovers are immediately down into the Conference League after losing in the Champions League last week.
It feels that each year, there’s more and more for top teams and less for the lesser teams.
"I know that the money is still attractive but I’m sure the TV viewing figures will be lower in the Conference group.
“There’s positives and negatives. There’s a higher chance of reaching this Conference League group stages, as Rovers will be happy with their third-round draw, but there’s less opportunity to play the bigger teams.”
McMillan is disillusioned by what he views as Uefa creating a wider chasm across Europe.
“This only plays into the hands of the larger clubs,” he said. “They are continuously seeking more money. We saw it with the European Super League proposal.
“I don’t know how we can continue to survive at this level if the aim of football is just to feed the top 10 or so clubs in Europe.”
McMillan and the club’s American owners, Peak6, must make do with their lot for now, consoled at least by the €300,000 extra prize-money on offer for beating the Estonians. Both Dundalk and Bohemians are guaranteed €550,000 for reaching this second-round stage.
“I think we’re pretty evenly matched with Levadia,” said the forward. “Levadia are going very well in their league and we’re starting to show some form. For the neutral, it should be an open game with two attacking teams.”
Fourteen points adrift of co-leaders Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic, regaining their title and, with it, a route into the Champions League is beyond their expectations at this stage.
“We didn’t deliver at the start of the season and are playing catch up now,” McMillan reflected. “But between fighting for European places, the FAI Cup, and these games in Europe, there’s still plenty to play for.
“It’s about delivering more performances. The key is getting through these rounds in Europe.”
Meanwhile, Bohemians are in Luxembourg for their first leg against F91 Dudelange, who’ve reached the Europa League group stages for the past two seasons. Kick off at the Stade Jos Nosbaum is 5.30pm, Irish time.