The upcoming Champions League tie with Riga FC could be a landmark one for Gary Rogers but the Dundalk goalkeeper is more concerned about keeping a clean sheet than any personal accolades.
Should he be picked to play as expected in both legs against the Latvian champions then he will equal his PFAI colleague Ollie Cahill’s record of 41 European appearances – the most by any player in the history of the League of Ireland.
With another round in waiting for Dundalk whether they win or lose against Mihails Koņevs’ side, it looks almost certain – barring injury or a dramatic loss in form – that Rogers will hold Cahill’s record by the end of next month.
While a guaranteed four matches ensures that possibility, Rogers revealed that he wants to make much more than that in the weeks and months ahead.
“It would be nice to catch up with Ollie,” he admitted.
“To be playing in Europe is the pinnacle of anyone’s career and hopefully all going well that I’m fit to play and picked to play to add to the appearances that I’ve already got.
“It’s something I’m planning to build on and hopefully I can build on it a lot this year.
“One of the major benefits of the League of Ireland is it gives players a chance to play European football. A lot of players go to England and play in League One or Two or even the Championship and never get the chance to play European football. The fans will testify how special these European nights are. If you can go and win games in Europe you’ll always remember them.”
While potentially more mouth-watering ties lie ahead, the 37-year-old goalkeeper said he wouldn’t be looking beyond the challenge posed by Riga in what will be his first meeting with Latvian opposition.
“There’s never an easy game in Europe,” said Rogers.
“If you look at any of the teams we could have got, they’re champions of their country and they’re champions for a reason.
“Although they’re not seeded, that makes no difference when you take to the pitch.
“Many teams would have looked at our co-efficient over the years and maybe thought they’d beat us but we’ve got through against some very big teams before. We know anything is possible.
“There’s not a massive gap between our co-efficient and theirs and any team that is the champions of their country is going to be tough to beat but that’s where you want to be, playing Champions League football and testing ourselves over the summer.
“It will be a difficult tie but like that we’ll be just looking at how we can perform to do enough to get through the round.”
One thing that would certainly help would be a clean sheet from Rogers in either leg, particularly the first leg at Oriel Park on July 10th.
“In European ties you’re always looking to keep a clean sheet at home and not give away that away goal that can be so vital.
“There’s pluses and minuses to playing at home first but if you can keep a clean sheet in the first leg at home then at least you can go away for the second leg and go for an away goal of your own that can be equally as vital.
“We just have to concentrate on keeping it tight and home, trying to get the win to put ourselves in a good position going over there to try and finish the job.”
Rogers and his team-mates head for Spain on Wednesday for a mid-season training camp and while analysis of Riga FC is inevitable, he said the side are also focused on winning their three league matches between now and then away to Shamrock Rovers on Friday week, at home to Waterford on July 1st and away to Derry City on July 5th.
“We’ll be doing a bit of homework on them over the next few days I’d say when we go away to Spain on a mid-season camp. It’s a good opportunity to study them and see what weaknesses they might have but ultimately we’re not looking too far beyond our next game against Shamrock Rovers.
“The idea of going away is to prepare you for what you may face throughout the summer in Europe. We’ll be doing some warm weather training which is something that you’ll come across later in the campaign. Last year it was ridiculously warm in Larnaca. We’d be hopeful we wouldn’t face that same heat again but it’s good to go and train in them conditions and get yourself ready and fine-tuned for these European games.
“We can’t take our eye off the ball here either though. The three games before Europe are massive games
“If we can hit the ground running after the break and pick up as many points as possible it would give us an opportunity to head into this European tie in good form and try to have a good campaign in Europe but first and foremost we have to pick up as many points as possible in the league and keep the momentum going that we’ve had over the last few weeks,” said Rogers.