Dundalk vs Legia….Where the tie was Lost

An underdog in any sport needs to maximise their strengths to increase their chances of success. Dundalk FC missed a trick against Legia Warsaw and paid the price. Playing the first leg of their play off at the Aviva Stadium may have cost them their Champions League dream.

So Dundalk’s Champions League dream is over for at least another year as they crashed out of the competition last night, succumbing to the flair and exuberance of their higher ranked Polish opponents. If only that was the case. Whilst Dundalk can hold their heads high for capturing the imagination of a nation, they must surely be cursed with thoughts of what might have been.

The sad truth is that Legia Warsaw, over the two legs, showed very little to suggest they are anything but a distinctly average side. Indeed, they were there for the taking and their current form in the Polish Premier League would suggest the same. In fact, such was their ordinariness, it’s safe to say that an Irish side will never have a better opportunity to qualify for the Champions League proper. So, where exactly was the tie lost?

WARSAW, POLAND - AUGUST 23: Robert Benson of Dundalk FC scores the goal for his team during Legia Warsaw v Dundalk FC - UEFA Champions League Play Off 2nd Leg at the Wojsko Polskie Stadium on August 23, 2016 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)

I’m not going to delve into the tactics used or the technical differences between the teams as both are governed by the quality of players available to each manager which is in turn dictated by finance. For starters, Legia have a ground that can cater for European football and I’m sure they pay their players 52 weeks of the year. On both counts, Dundalk don’t. Legia, quite rightly were the higher ranked side and consequently, the more established European side. They were supposed to steamroll little Dundalk, right? Wrong.

In spite of the gulf in turnover between the sides, it didn’t turn out that way. Football’s great like that. The underdog always has a chance but it needs help.

Unfortunately, Dundalk didn’t help themselves. They couldn’t. Their ground was deemed unfit for purpose and so needed a Champions League approved stadium to fulfil the fixture. The game was lost not on the field but on the decision to play the first leg at the Aviva Stadium. Prestige aside, there’s not a great argument supporting the view that playing at the Aviva Stadium would improve the team’s chances of achieving the seemingly impossible feat of Champions League qualification. In fact, quite the opposite.

WARSAW, POLAND - AUGUST 23: Michal Kucharczyk of Legia Warsaw (L) fights for the ball with Sean Gannon of Dundalk FC (R) during Legia Warsaw v Dundalk FC - UEFA Champions League Play Off 2nd Leg at the Wojsko Polskie Stadium on August 23, 2016 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)

Unquestionably, the game wasn’t big enough for the grandeur of the Aviva Stadium. It would have been more suited to a smaller capacity ground albeit one that would have to meet UEFA requirements. Irish football needs investment. It needs forward planning. In games of such magnitude, maximising home advantage is critical. Creating a partisan crowd is essential.

A home crowd can intimidate as much as it can inspire. As it stood, the game was played out in front of 30,000 spectators spread out between upper and lower tiers at the Aviva. The Home of Irish football accommodated not only the Dundalk bandwagon jumpers but also the large Polish community living in and around the capital. Any opportunity for Dundalk to capitalise on home advantage was lost. At the top level, these things can make the difference.

I would also hazard a guess that the dimensions of the Aviva pitch weren’t altered in line with that of Dundalk’s Oriel Park. It certainly didn’t look that way. I say this because if dimensions weren’t altered, then playing the game at the Aviva would prove as much of a handicap to Dundalk’s players as it would Legia’s.

Maybe this explains the Dundalk player’s inability to attack with any real gusto in the latter stages of that home leg and instead concede a killer second goal. A goal that ultimately cost them the tie.

Investment right throughout the League of Ireland is needed. Especially now when we have a team on a European adventure and capturing the imagination.  As a footballing nation, we continue to sabotage ourselves. We seem to persevere with mediocrity when the real prize is there for the taking. At the top level, small decisions make big differences. Whatever about other sports, the footballing mentality certainly needs to change and when it does maybe we’ll all be celebrating an Irish side winning the euromillions of Champions League qualification instead of the football pools of the Europa league.

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2 Responses to Dundalk vs Legia….Where the tie was Lost

  1. Paul o brien N.D.S.L elite coach says:

    The answer is Coach education at grassroots and better academies at L.O.I clubs so we can produce a better product (players)to develop and play or sell. By doing this they can self fund and produce more professionalism in our game. The introduction of under 15 and 17 L.O.I games will prove to be very profitable for our game (quality wise and monetary wise)in the future. Over the next five to ten years there will be massive improvement in our home game bore out of the strategy brought in by the F.A.I over the past two seasons. What are your thoughts on this?

    • sweeneymc83 says:

      Thanks for the message and apologies for the late reply, I totally agree about the need for better coaching and academies….however an under 15 and 17 LOI is a non starter as far as I’m concerned as the costs involved ie. transport will always outweigh income. Some LOI crowds average less than 400 so what chance have younger age groups. Massive improvements are necessary but it needs commitment, sustained investment and perseverance, all of which have been lacking in the past and continue to this day. What LOI clubs get given is breadcrumbs of investment and they are so desperate for these breadcrumbs that they’re afraid to speak out and make a united stand.

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