Donal’s delight as Dundalk come to Bratislava

Donal’s delight as Dundalk come to Bratislava

It’s rare you go away in Europe and have a Dundalk man, let alone an ex-player, as a would-be scout and tour guide on the ground.

Such is the case with Donal Greene in Bratislava though.

The former goalkeeper, who played countless times at underage level for the Lilywhites, has been living in the Slovakian capital for the last eight years and is understandably more excited than most ahead of Dundalk’s clash with Slovan Bratislava at the Tehelné pole stadium on Wednesday.

The 29-year-old told The Argus in the build-up to the game that he couldn’t wait to meet up with the hundreds of locals expected to travel over for the game.

“I’m delighted that Dundalk are coming over,” he said.

“Watching all those European games from afar and not being able to be involved in it is tough but now it’s all coming here so I’m quite excited about it.

“It’s a lovely city, especially at this time of year. It’s in the 30s now regarding temperature and the sun is out most days.

“The city itself is quite historic. It’s a small city and quite tourist friendly so the fans that are coming over will have a good time here. The stadium is top class as well. It’s a brand now 22,500 seater stadium so it’s going to be a good experience for everyone I think.

“I hope quite a few get over because I know they raised prices after the Qarabag result was confirmed. Hopefully plenty do make the journey. It’s not far to come and as well as that it’s a cheap place when you’re here so you’ll save money on that side of it.

“I’ve a few mates coming over and I’m still in touch with one or two lads from the team and the backroom team so it’ll be good to have everyone over and to catch up with a few people I haven’t seen in a long time. Hopefully we will get a good result as well.”

While Donal never actually got to play a competitive first-team game for Dundalk, he was on the bench a number of times under both John Gill and Sean Connor having been initially brought into the first-team set up in 2005 under Jim Gannon.
Having been there through a series of dark days in the club’s history, Greene said being so far from home while the club was doing so well was tough.

“I’ve been going to Oriel Park since I was four years old. It’s kind of weird because I followed them up and down the country when I was a kid and a young fella. That was the old First Division days when Gortakeegan was glamorous. We were playing in the likes of Pike Rovers in Limerick and those sort of horrible grounds and now I’m a little bit jealous of the fans because they’re spoilt these days.

“They’ve got a team playing beautiful football, winning trophies and playing in Europe and I’m 2,000 miles away in Bratislava watching from afar.

“I’m actually quite proud of having Dundalk people over and the team over and I hope they win because I’ve a big circle of friends here in Bratislava and I always harp on about Dundalk and what a great town it is and how good a football team they are and now they get to see that for themselves.

“A lot of my friends and co-workers are going to the game so I’m hoping the lads can put in one of them typical high-tempo performances so it confirms what I’ve been saying for a long time.

“All the guys in the office here are all from Bratislava but they wouldn’t be supporting Slovan. It’s a strange thing with Slovan. They’re not really a team of the people like Dundalk are at home. Here hockey is the number one sport. It’s a bit weird because Slovan play in a 20,000 seater stadium. It’s a beautiful, brand new stadium; a bit like the Aviva except a little bit smaller and they only get 3,000 or 4,000 fans at games so it’s a weird atmosphere with a three quarter empty stadium.”

Knowing that Dundalk could potentially coming to town has seen Donal increase his interest in the Fortuna Liga champions in recent weeks and while he admits they will be formidable opposition, he also believes they are there to be got at.

“Dundalk couldn’t be coming here at a better time,” he said.

“They’ve only started their season, they’re looking kind of rusty and they don’t have a permanent manager so I think they’re there to be got at.

“I’ve watched them three times in the last week or so. Slovan went out of the Champions League in disgrace against a very unknown Montenegrin team. The manager got fired after that game so the fans were already a bit impatient and then in the game against Feronikeli they were very dilly dally on the ball, they had no tempo and were happy to just pass it around the back.

“They conceded a goal from a set piece and they were booed off at half-time and at full-time. That was surprising for me because I don’t think you’d ever see that in Oriel Park no matter how bad it got.

“The political situation around Slovan is they’ve a huge amount of money behind them from a guy called Ivan Kmotrík, who is like an Oligarch businessman. He has invested literally millions.

“They have bought several players for over a million euro and the goal was this year to get to the Champions League group stages which sounds ambitious but they’ve obviously fallen at the first hurdle so if they don’t get at least the Europa League group stages then they could be in a bit of bother because there’s a lot of these guys on four year contracts on reportedly up to a million euro a year.”

While Greene believes Slovan are more of a group of individuals than a team at this moment in time, he outlined some of the key threats Dundalk would have to keep an eye on.

“It’s an interesting side because when I watched them, and I’m sure it will be similar against Dundalk, they only had one Slovakian player in the team, the goalkeeper Dominik Greif. The rest were a mixture of Dutch, Slovenian, Bulgarian and they’ve a Brazilian and a Spanish guy as well so it’s pretty much a mix of everything. That’s part of the reason why they don’t have that connection with the fans.

“They do have a couple of decent players though. They’ve a centre half who starts regularly for Bulgaria called Bozhikov, who is their rock at the back. They’ve a lad called Dávid Holman, who just got capped recently for Hungary. He’s a really stylish attacking midfielder, a tall, lanky guy who gets on the ball and makes them tick. Then they have a guy called Andraž Šporar who is Slovenian. He scored 32 goals in 42 goals last season so he’s the danger man up front.

“They’ve got very good individual players but in the games I’ve watched them play there was no kind of cohesion or tempo. The build up was very slow and they actually looked quite exposed at the back. Having said that they have serious quality in the last third and that’s the danger for Dundalk but if Dundalk can get at them early and play the way they can in Europe and maybe add an early goal then it’s going to be a very, very toxic atmosphere for the Slovan players and they might not react well to that,” he said.

Before the game, Greene is looking forward to mingling with fans and expects them to have a good time in a city he has only the height of praise for.

“There’s an Irish pub in the city centre and it is probably where everyone is going to end up going although it’s not really Irish, it just has the name of ‘The Dubliner’. I’d imagine that is where everyone will gravitate towards.

“There’s kind of three or four streets beside each other where all the main bars are so I think everybody will be there. There is a couple of gems for later on in the night time including a bar called Goblins which is owned by a lad who went to DkIT and used to work in Amber. His name is Shane Hughes from Ballyjamesduff in Cavan. It’s an underground dungeon bar and you’d probably have to put it into Google Maps to find it but it’s only €1.50 for a pint.”

It’s somewhat ironic that Greene’s last game at Oriel Park came seven years ago yesterday (Monday) when he took part in a Tommy McConville match as part of the Save Our Club campaign. Little could anyone have foreseen back then that Dundalk would be preparing for a 10th different country to visit this decade.

“It’s incredible,” he said when looking back on how far the club has come.

“The last time I actually played in Oriel Park was in the Tommy McConville match to save our club. I was in Bratislava at that stage but came home for a few days. That was literally to get a couple of hundred euro together to pay wages or a bus bill or something like that so to see where they are now is incredible.”

The prize if Dundalk can advance past Bratislava is much bigger. Win, lose or draw or Wednesday though Greene will be there with his Dundalk gear on, smile as wide as the Danube and heart bursting with pride.

The Town comes to his town this week and he couldn’t be more excited.