Cultures differ around the world but for Dundalk the only one that really matters to them is winning.
Ahead of their Champions League second qualifying round second leg tie against Qarabag at the Dalga Arena this evening, Vinny Perth’s side and the small band of supporters who travelled with them have been getting to know Baku – the uber rich and modern city that is another world away from the border town which they departed from on Monday morning.
A sign of how things differ abroad came after yesterday’s media briefing at the Hilton Hotel when Sean Gannon and Jamie McGrath almost ran into trouble with police while taking part in a photoshoot having not secured a permit to record or take pictures on the famous promenade.
Supporters have found the experience much more appealing with sleek hotel rooms being complimented by local beers and kebabs selling for the equivalent of one euro.
For the team, alcohol holds no such appeal. Instead they were on the hunt yesterday for a coffee spot to chill out in before going into battle with Qarabag tomorrow night.
Dundalk head coach Perth said the days of Irish teams going abroad for a knees-up were very much a thing of the past. Now, results are all that matter.
“I went out with the players, one of the only times at the back end of last season and there wasn’t pints being drunk.
“That was a change for me, it wasn’t pints culture anymore. It’s just different.
“The DNA in here, if you’re off on a Wednesday, a lot of the lads go to the gym whether in Dundalk or Seán Hoare will have a few lads in Blanchardstown in the gym and doing yoga and different things.”
It’s this work ethic which has allowed the Lilywhites to once again dream of another big European scalp and the potential of repeating their run to the group stages of the Europa League from 2016.
Asked where the turning point came where Irish sides no longer accepted morale victories in Europe, Perth said it had been in place for some time now at Oriel Park at least.
“I suppose we’ve had so many big nights, especially away from home. We beat Hadjuk Split over there. I remember sitting in that dressing room and the initial reaction was we were unlucky, but no, we left it behind us.
“Moral victories just don’t wash with the group. In pre-season, we spoke about the Europa League group stages and it’s probably harder now than it ever was because of the fourth round. It wasn’t necessarily a goal, but because of our seeding, a little bit of luck and a couple of draws, can we go after the Europa League? That comes from the group and we dream.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with dreaming about being in the group stage of the Champions League or Europa League. That runs through the group because it’s what they want.
“I speak to the players about dreaming about the playoff game. The football gurus tell you to just focus on one game at a time but I wanted them in January training to be thinking of these European nights and the group stages.
“There is constant chatter about it but I couldn’t say when the sea change happened. We got a lot of belief in the BATE game in Tallaght and it probably started from there but generally there is chatter about the group stages and big European nights.”
Wins wouldn’t come much bigger than away to a Qarabag side who have been in the Europa League group stages for four of the last five seasons and in the Champions League in the other. It’s because of that pedigree Perth feels all the pressure is on Gurban Gurbanov’s side.
“I’d imagine there is massive pressure on them, more so than us.
“We have internal pressure. We don’t have players on 500k, 600k, 700k a year. There is huge pressure on Qarabag to get through this tie as group stages of Champions League football will be their number one goal. One goal for us would put them under massive pressure. That’s why staying in the tie, into the second half, is important for us and would allow us exert some of that pressure.
“I spoke about pressure after beating Riga but I suppose the pressure was internal. It was also about the group as they want to be successful in Europe. What is success for an Irish club? Who knows? But I put myself under pressure because I want to achieve something in Europe.
“If we go out there will be a sense of disappointment in our group, a massive sense of disappointment, and the biggest challenge for myself and the staff will be picking them up ahead of another game next week. That tells you where we’ve come from.”
Dundalk have indeed come a long way. If Perth has his way their Champions League journey, for this season at least, won’t be ending here.