An Irishman has already had one big win this week, now Dundalk’s Sean Gannon is aiming for an even bigger one in Azerbaijan tonight.
Vinny Perth’s side had only landed in Baku on Monday night ahead of their Champions League second qualifying round second leg tie with Qarabag this evening when the 28-year-old full back hosted a Love Island final party in his room at the Hilton Hotel.
Supporters and team-mates packed into the room to cheer on Limerick’s Greg O’Shea, who won the reality TV series alongside Amber Gill.
While the ‘bookie of the group’ Daniel Kelly had predicted the outcome beforehand, Gannon is hopeful Dundalk can defy the odds by dumping Gurban Gurbanov’s side from the Champions League tonight.
“Dan Kelly is like the bookmaker over here and he’d give you the odds on winners and everything so he was saying the bookies never get it wrong and they had Amber and Greg so he kind of ruined it for me about an hour and a half before it even started,” said the Ringsend man.
“It’s just more or less about relaxing and having down time. Obviously we had a long day of travelling so it was just a case of people sitting around and watching TV and that’s probably as important as preparing for the match is because it’s about recovering and getting your downtime and just switching off for a while.”
Gannon’s Azerbaijan experience almost went from Love Island to Banged Up Abroad when local police stopped him and Jamie McGrath as they were doing a photoshoot on the promenade in front of their hotel yesterday.
“I nearly had to get bailed out,” he laughed.
“We were on the promenade there and these guys came along. I was actually with RTÉ at the time and I looked around and there was this little miniature police car flying down the promenade that went straight up to Jamie. Jamie is a quiet enough lad as it is but I don’t think his Azerbaijani is any good. We were nearly getting put in a cell by the looks of it. They just said we had no permit and within five minutes there was literally eight or nine police around us.”
Thankfully the issue was resolved but the incident was a timely reminder that Gannon and co aren’t in town for a holiday.
“The amount of places I’ve been through football that I never would have ended up in like Belarus, Iceland, Azerbaijan and these type of places. They’re not places that would probably jump off the map when you think of going on holidays.
“It’s no Love Island but it’s great getting to see parts of the world that you usually wouldn’t end up in and obviously getting to play in different stadiums and in different climates is brilliant.
“At the same time, I think you kind of have to remember that you’re here to do a job. Although you’re getting to see nice places, you’re here to win a football match and that’s really the aim.
“Getting to see the different places and getting to walk around different cities and cultures is great but ultimately you’re here to win a European game. I think we’ve shown that we’re well able to come away from home and play well in the games and not get distracted by everything else that goes on.”
The tie is evenly poised at 1-1 but Gannon is confident Dundalk can shock the home side at the Dalga Arena.
“The tie is level at the moment and we have to score but sometimes that kind of suits us better when we know we have to score because we have great players on the counter attack and great players that can score at any time. We know what we have to do and if we were to beat them it would be a huge achievement.
“Obviously as players a lot of us are still here from 2016 and know what it was like to reach the group stages and how good a feeling it was so we want to do that again.
“We’re not just going to rest on our laurels and say we’ve done it before, that’s it, we don’t have to do it again. I think the ambition of the club now is to be getting into European competition. That’s what the aim is, to get into the group stages of European competitions. That’s the mentality that is there at the moment. We’re not just going to be happy to go out of the tournament.”
One Irishman shared a £50,000 purse after a big win this week but for Gannon an Dundalk the prize on offer in Baku is much, much bigger.