Dundalk’s Champions League dream might have ended in Poland on Tuesday night but their hopes of making a further impression in Europe have only just begun, according to striker David McMillan.
The Louth club went so close to making history against Legia Warsaw when, despite trailing 2-0 from the first leg in Dublin six days earlier, a 19th-minute wonder goal from Robbie Benson put them right back into contention.
However, despite the home side being reduced to 10 men following Adam Hlousek’s red card 23 minutes from the end, Stephen Kenny’s side couldn’t find the second they needed to take the game into extra-time with the Polish champions scoring on the break in stoppage time through Michal Kucharczyk to deny Dundalk what would have been the most famous night in the history of Irish domestic football.
The consolation prize for the League of Ireland champions is a place in the Europa League group stages, the draw for which takes place at lunchtime tomorrow in Monaco.
They are only the second Irish club to have achieved such a feat after Shamrock Rovers in 2011. On that occasion the Tallaght outfit failed to claim a single point in a group that included Tottenham but McMillan insists Dundalk are not in the competition just to make up the numbers.
“Some of the lads who were there before with Rovers have talked about getting there and that was it done. They didn’t expect to pick up any points. I think this team will be different,” he said. “Already speaking to one or two of the lads, our aim will be high.
“We want to make sure we get points in the group and do very well in it. Who knows, on the performances we have put in in the last two rounds against teams who have been in group stages in Europe quite a bit, who says we can’t go and get points and get through the group?”
McMillan, who scored five goals in epic victories over FH Hafnarfjordur and BATE Borisov in earlier rounds, said he felt his side could have asked more questions of Legia in the closing stages.
Ultimately though, the 27-year-old part-time architect admitted that it was the first leg that cost his side.
“When they went down to 10 men we probably didn’t do enough really. Nothing seemed to change enough. Obviously, we would have liked to get on the ball a bit more at that stage and try to dictate it and create a few more openings but I don’t think we did.
“The goal they got in the end was just a breakaway goal but the tie was in the balance right up until the last two or three minutes and it’s just disappointing we didn’t test their goalkeeper more than we did.
“When I look back on it, it was probably last week in the end that really cost us,” he said.
While the adventure in Europe has been memorable, the striker insists it is now vital that Dundalk get back on track in the league after back-to-back defeats away to Galway Unite and Bray Wanderers when they travel to face Wexford Youths tomorrow night.
“This opportunity came about from winning the league so we want to make sure we turn our league form around and if we can bring some of the form we had into the league games then we should have no problem.”
Their workload is set to be eased in the coming days with the Lilywhites expected to add both ex-Rangers midfielder Dean Shiels, son of Derry City boss Kenny, and former Sligo Rovers defender Alan Keane to their ranks.
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