Dundalk FC defender Daniel Cleary has challenged his side to get to the levels of Qarabag over the next few years.

That process begins this Wednesday when Vinny Perth’s side continue their European adventure with a Europa League third qualifying round first leg tie away to Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia.

Cleary was one of the Lilywhites’ best performers despite the 3-0 defeat in Baku last week and while he had no complaints about the result, he feels it was a reminder of what Dundalk have to do if they want to become group stage regulars like Gurban Gurbanov’s side.

“We knew coming over here it was going to be tough but they showed their quality and I think it was a fair result in the end,” said Cleary.

“If Pat’s chance goes in, which it was so close to, it’s 2-2 and we’re going into extra-time. They’re the fine margins but on the night they were the better team. We can’t deny that they’re a quality side but that’s where we need to get to.

“We needed a game like that to show us where we need to get to heading into next week. That’s a step ahead to where we want to get to. We’ll definitely be ready for next week.”

The 23-year-old was full of praise for the Azeris, saying they had little edges over the League of Ireland champions in just about every area.

“It’s a little bit of everything, tactically, technically. The players are quality all around the pitch. They’re well drilled as well.

“They’re a massive club and they’ve been in Europe for the past five years but that’s where we need to get to. We want to get to that level but we have a bit of work to do.

“We have to learn from tonight before we move on but I think we will. We can’t dwell on this. We have a massive opportunity next week and I think we have a massive opportunity of going through if we perform to the level that we can perform to. We’ll have a good crack at it.

“We didn’t think of this game as a bye. These games are massive to us and we want to show our quality and take Irish football to the next step but we’re still a little bit behind but we’ll definitely get there in the next few years.

“This club has massive potential to become a club like this,” said Cleary.

His sentiments were echoed by Sean Murray, who felt the double header with Qarabag would stand to Dundalk against Slovan Bratislava this week.

“The last two weeks has been the best preparation for a game like that. If we beat them and can kick on in the tournament that will be great,” said Murray.

“We always want to be competing at this level and playing against teams like this. We can only take the positives from that game and pushing forward we know what to expect,” he said.