Sometimes you have to experience loss to really appreciate what matters.
That’s why Sean Gannon will be amongst the most fired up of his Dundalk team-mates when they take to the field for their Champions League first qualifying round first leg tie with Riga FC at Oriel Park on Wednesday.
An ever present of Dundalk’s 22 European matches under Stephen Kenny, that run came to an end last summer when a rib injury saw him sit out the 0-0 Europa League second qualifying round first leg draw at home to AEK Larnaca at Oriel Park on July 26th last.
The right back would return to action as a second half substitute in the AEK Arena a week later but by that stage Dundalk were trailing the Cypriots 3-0 and would eventually succumb to a 4-0 defeat – the club’s heaviest in Europe in the Kenny era.
Twelve months on former assistant Vinny Perth is at the helm but the desire to do well in Europe remains the same. Indeed, that fire to do well only burns brighter according to Gannon given last year’s experience.
“It was a hard lesson but we hope we’ve learned from it,” he said reflecting back on that sweltering night in Larnaca.
“Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say it didn’t go our way. It was just one of those things where you take lessons from it and try to rectify the problems but also you have to say if it wasn’t to be, it wasn’t to be and that’s it.
“I came on at half-time over there. I had just got back for training the night before. I came back from the rib injury and played against Cork but when you come back from a long injury you can pick up other knocks and I kind of had a little tweak in my calf.
“Obviously I missed the home leg against Larnaca but I did my best to get back for the second leg and trained the night before but I didn’t start. It was hard to watch because it looked really tough and you just want to help the lads out, especially in those conditions.
“It was a bit of a freak game because I don’t think anyone would have expected it to work out the way it did. A lot of elements worked against us that day but that’s why we’re all looking forward to Europe this year. A lot of us who played in Europe last year are still here and we want to give a better showing from ourselves.”
Wednesday will be a landmark night for Gannon as he prepares for what will be the 250th start of his career. While he couldn’t have picked a much better occasion than a Champions League tie to reach that milestone, he insists a positive result is all that will matter to him on the night.
“I didn’t know that to be honest,” he said when the feat was put to him.
“When I came here I never thought I’d reach 250 games. Obviously a huge bulk of that was with Dundalk. All my family will be there and it’s a good occasion to do it in but it’s all about winning regardless of all the other stuff.
“We just want a good result at home in Europe to take away next week.
“I think since I’ve been here I’ve been lucky enough to play in a good chunk of the European games and they are brilliant.
“There’s a great atmosphere and you saw the queue for tickets outside Oriel, the place is going to be absolutely rammed on Wednesday.
“It’s live on TV so it’s a great occasion. We’ve a squad of more than 20 players and every single player wants to play so we just need to make sure that we’re ready for it because there’s no easy games in Europe. Riga will be a good side so we just have to make sure we’re as prepared as we can be.”
While Dundalk will be favourites to beat the Latvian champions, Gannon has enough European experience under his belt to know not to expect any favours from Mihails Koņevs’ side.
“You’re playing in the Champions League so there’s no easy games,” said the 27-year-old.
“We’re playing against a team who have won their domestic league so they’re obviously a very good side.
“We’re at home first so we need to come flying out of the blocks, put them under pressure and get a good result going away.”
With Dundalk’s record European appearance holder Dane Massey currently being rotated with Dean Jarvis, there is a good chance that the in-form Gannon could overtake him in the coming campaign but the former St Patrick’s Athletic and Shamrock Rovers player says that is the least of his concerns.
“For me it’s all just about getting through with the team. Obviously for a club like Dundalk, it’s a big compliment to be up there in terms of European appearances but it’s all just about the team really. It’s not about any one player or records or anything like that.
“I’ll gladly take the team winning over any individual stuff. It’s a team game and the team winning is the most important thing,” said Gannon.
Last year undoubtedly stung Dundalk. Riga could now face the backlash on Wednesday.