David McMillan spearheaded Dundalk’s run to the Europa League group stages in 2016. Now he’s back to do it again.
The 31-year-old scored the game’s only goal with a cool finish from Michael Duffy’s pass as Filippo Giovagnoli’s side overcame Inter Club d’Escalades in Andorra last Thursday night to set up a third qualifying round tie away to Moldovan champions Sheriff Tiraspol this Thursday.
The prize for the winner will be a home tie in a one-legged play-off against either KÍ Klaksvik from the Faroe Islands or Dynamo Tbilisi and McMillan is hoping that lightning can strike twice and Dundalk can return to the group stages.
Back before the club’s memorable European run under Stephen Kenny four summers ago, the Dubliner was due to be on the bench when Dundalk travelled to face Derry City but the fact Ciaran Kilduff wasn’t feeling well saw him thrown in from the start.
He would go on to score the first league hat-trick of his career in a 5-0 win before following it up with another treble in a 4-3 win over Longford Town at Oriel Park four days later. He would then carry that form into Europe with three goals over the two legs against FH Hafnarfjordur in the Champions League qualifiers before a superb brace in the memorable 3-0 win over BATE Borisov in Tallaght that secured Europa League group stage football for the Lilywhites.
Having returned to Oriel Park after a two-and-a-half year spell in Scotland this summer, McMillan was largely playing second fiddle to top scorer Patrick Hoban before the striker picked up a groin injury ahead of the FAI Cup win away to Cobh Ramblers last month.
Now he’s taking his chance again and hoping the end result proves similar.
“Football is a strange game. You can be in one minute and out the next or vice versa,” he said.
“I only found out a minute or two before the Cobh game that I was starting and it has been good to get the chance because when I came back to the club I knew Pat had been doing well and scoring goals so I was just happy to bide my time to get my chance and hopefully now I’ve taken it.
“It’s lucky for me and hopefully I can continue it this week,” he said.
The 31-year-old is expecting a tougher test from Sheriff than that posed in Andorra.
“It will be a step up,” he said.
“They’ve a decent record in Europe. We haven’t watched too much of them yet but from what I gather they’ve started very well in their league so it will definitely be a tough test and going away from home obviously makes it a little bit more difficult but there are great rewards to be had if we can go and win.
“We’d be at home in the play-off round so it’s a great incentive to go and beat Sheriff and put ourselves in a really strong position to push for the group stages again.”
McMillan said he had huge sympathy for his team-mate Andy Boyle, who misses the trip to Moldova through suspension after two very harsh bookings against Inter Club.
“I haven’t seen them back but in real-time they both looked harsh decisions, not even in terms of being a yellow but even as fouls.
“Just any sort of a challenge in the air seemed to be a free kick whether it was for the defender or the attacker. When the referee starts doing that I think he puts himself in a tricky position.
“The first yellow was exceptionally harsh. It just came off the shout of the opposition player. Then the second one I don’t think he was going to book him at all but he saw a bit of blood on the guy and decides it’s enough for a yellow card even though he initially wasn’t going to give it to him.
“Andy’s record in terms of being sent-off is exceptional. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do really if you can’t go and challenge for the ball. I was so disappointed for him and I think everybody felt for him in the dressing room after the game because you can’t even appeal it.”