Gary Rogers has more reasons than most for Dundalk’s Champions League journey to continue beyond Baku this week.
On Wednesday night the 37-year-old goalkeeper was in outstanding form as Vinny Perth’s side rode an early Qarabag storm to claim a well deserved 1-1 first draw in their second qualifying round clash at Oriel Park courtesy of Patrick Hoban’s 78th minute equaliser.
It was a landmark night for the Meathman, who was making a record 42nd European appearance of his career, surpassing his PFAI colleague Ollie Cahill.
Of those 42 appearances, just 15 have been in the Champions League but if Dundalk can shock Gurban Gurbanov’s side in Wednesday’s second leg in the Dalga Arena and set up a third qualifying round tie against either Sutjeska of Montenegro or APOEL of Cyrpus then Rogers will also go on to equal the record of 18 Champions League appearances currently held by Owen Heary.
“Look if we can get to the next round of the Champions League I think we’ll all be very happy,” he smiled, when the prospect was put to him.
“To have 42 games in Europe is very special and I’m just grateful to still be playing.
“The tie is very much alive. We’ll have learned a lot from this, as will they. It’s important that we go over there and stay in the game as long as we can and if we can be clinical on the counter attack in the second leg then we’ve got a great opportunity.”
It looked like would be a long night for the SSE Airtricity League champions when Mahir Emreli nodded Qarabag in front with a header from Jamie Romero’s corner after just four minutes.
However, despite having to weather a storm Rogers said he was always confident that his side would get chances if they managed to see off the early pressure.
“We’re disappointed with the way we conceded the first goal. It was sloppy and got a deflection off Pat (Hoban) on the way in.
“It wasn’t an ideal start but the experience that is in the group meant that we stuck at it. It was important then to get to half-time without conceding another goal because if you go 2-0 or 3-0 down in ties like this then people would say the tie is over. It was important that we ensured there was only the one goal in it because we always knew we would get chances. This team always produces opportunities to score and we could have had two or three goals the way the night went for us and we could have easily ran out 2-1 or 3-1 winners.
“The second half performance was brilliant. I think everyone really stood up to the challenge.
“All in all we’d be very happy with the way it went tonight and the second half performance was excellent.”
While Jamie McGrath, Dane Massey and Michael Duffy all had chances to win it for Dundalk after Hoban’s 78th minute equaliser, Rogers doesn’t feel his side will be made to regret missing those chances but admitted he expects to be called into action a number of times in next week’s second leg.
“You’re always going to have to make saves when you’re playing teams of this quality and you just hope that when you are you can keep it out.
“Probably on the balance of possession it could be deemed greedy to say we should have won it but I think we had some really good chances and could easily have nicked it in the end.
“I think it’s a testament to our fitness that we can keep going right until the 90th minute against opposition like we were facing. It speaks volumes for the strength and conditioning and the fitness of the players,” he said.