Patrick Hoban will be hoping to shoot down Sheriff for the second time in his Dundalk career on Thursday night.
The striker scored his first goal for the Lilywhites on his debut away to Dublin-based Sheriff YC in the Leinster Senior Cup way back in February 2013.
It’s a sign of how far the club has come in that period that seven-and-a-half years on it is Moldovan champions Sheriff Tiraspol that he and his team-mates are now preparing for.
Bar the name, there is no comparison between the two Sheriffs but Hoban’s ambition now remains the same as back then: to score away from home and help his side into the next round of a Cup competition.
“That was a long time ago now,” he said reflecting back on the game at the Clontarf Road Complex that was decided in extra-time.
“I’d love to score against the other Sheriff on Thursday obviously but getting through is the main thing to do.
“Since I’ve came back to the club the goal has always been to get to the group stages and we have a chance now but we have to do the business on Thursday.”
While the two matches are a world apart, Hoban said it’s a sign of how far Dundalk have come over the years that they’re now preparing to visit another new country in Moldova this week.
“You’d never have imagined that we’d be here in 2013 but obviously what Stephen built was superb and it has been continued on.
“When I came here we weren’t thinking about Europe but now it’s a huge focus. You get to see different countries. You might only get two or three days but it’s still great to see them and play in different places. It is brilliant but we’re there on business, not on a holiday.
“We have to go there in the right frame of mind and try to win a game of football,” he said.
Hoban has yet to start under new interim head coach Filippo Giovagnoli after pulling out of his first game in charge away to Cobh Ramblers at the end of last month with a groin problem but he insists that is fully behind him now after coming off the bench in Andorra last week.
“I’m feeling good so hopefully I’m over that injury now.
“It was very hard because I’m not used to missing games here so that was quite hard to take. It’s just one of those frustrating injuries where there’s a bad inflammation in the groin so I needed to wait to see would it heal by itself but I feel grand now so that’s the main thing.
“I’m looking forward to playing for Filippo. He has brought a new approach to it and people from the outside can probably see that for themselves.
“There’s a lot more intensity to our game and you can say we’re a lot more solid. We’ve had three good results in the last three games but we’ve still got a lot of improvements to do.
“We should be putting teams like Inter Club away. Last Thursday we had a host of chances to do that and we didn’t and that kind of made the game difficult for us. To get through was the main thing but we as players know we still have a lot of improving to do and hopefully we can do that under Filippo,” he said.
Dundalk will be at home to either KÍ or Dinamo Tiblisi in the Europa League play-offs should they win on Thursday and Hoban, who missed the last Europa League group stage campaign after departing for England, knows it is a big opportunity to possibly repeat the 2016 run.
“It was definitely an ambition of mine coming back here to make the group stages again.
“It is possible to do that now but we have to take it a game at a time and if we get through the next one it’s still not going to be easy to get there because the other teams that are there aren’t there for no reason either. It’s never easy but we’ll see how it goes on Thursday because we’re playing a very good side and we have to make sure we’re right on it.
“Sheriff are a very, very good side. If you look through their team they have a lot of different internationals playing there so it won’t be easy at all but with the right frame of mind we definitely have a chance of winning.
“At the end of the day it’s about the team trying to do it now for the fans who can’t come and watch the games. We want to do it for ourselves as well. We all have goals that we want to achieve and especially in Europe it’s the pinnacle of your career so these are opportunities that you need to take and we’ll be right up for it now on Thursday,” he said.
Dundalk boss Filippo Giovagnoli believes Thursday’s game against Sheriff Tiraspol can change the fortunes of the club’s season and turn it into an historic one.
It has been largely a year to forget at Oriel Park but victory at Sheriff Stadium this week (kick-off 7pm Irish time) would leave the Lilywhites just 90 minutes away from a return to the Europa League group stages with a home tie to follow against either KÍ Klaksvik from the Faroe Islands or Dynamo Tbilisi of Georgia.
While not looking too far ahead, Giovagnoli is well aware of the implications winning in Moldova could have on the club.
“It’s huge,” he said.
“We have to be honest, this is the game that can change a season. It can make this season unbelievable for them. Not for us because we’re only here a month but for them it can be an historic game.
“We know that but we cannot panic. We have to stay focused and prepare well,” said the Italian.
That said, the 49-year-old has been busy studying Zoran Zekić’s side and is well aware that they will get nothing easy in Tiraspol this week.
“We’ve watched many of their games already and they’re a very good team,” he said.
“Individually they’re really good. Every player is good technically but I think they’re a little bit of a different team to when they play in Europe compared to their own league so we’ll have to see what our game plan is. We are preparing and we have an idea of what to do there of course. I can’t say too much about it because I know they’ll read stuff but this is going to be a real challenge but it’ll be nice to face them because we can see where we’re at as well.”
Opposition anaylst Shane Keegan commented at the weekend that Sheriff were similar in standards to Slovenian outfit NK Celje, who beat Dundalk 3-0 in the Champions League last month but Giovagnoli – who replaced Vinny Perth in the wake of that defeat – has no doubt that the Moldovans are a better side.
“I think that Sheriff are much better than Celje,” he said.
“I don’t know about the style. I watched Celje a little bit but Sheriff are much, much better. They’re a different group of players and more talented. They have many attacking players who are really talented.
“I don’t think Celje has the same quality as them but it’s going to be a different game I feel. I don’t know what the situation was before when they played Celje but I know what the situation is right now and to be honest I am confident that we’re going to perform.”
Striker Anatole Abang, who was sent off against Qarabag in Sheriff’s Champions League defeat last month, departed the club last month having scored five and assisted three goals in the club’s opening eight league games this season. While he will be a miss, Giovagnoli said Sheriff had other players capable of stepping up.
“Abang is a really good player but now they’ll bring in some short strikers who are really technical so they’ll change something. They are really dangerous.
“Abang was, of course, a really important player for them but now they’re changing a little bit how they play and combine. They’ll still be dangerous.”
While Sheriff have won 10 matches from 10 at the start of this season domestically and conceded just twice, Giovagnoli feels they are a different proposition in Europe.
“In the league every year for them is a home run. They do what they want. They play as they want and they play with real confidence.
“In Europe I saw a different team I have to be honest. I watched the Qarabag and Fola Esch games and they’re different so let’s see how they play on Thursday. I think they’re going to respect us and if they don’t that’s better for us.”
With Andy Boyle suspended following his harsh dismissal in Andorra, Giovagnoli will be forced into at least one change for the match in Moldova but he insists no player can take their starting place for granted.
“We have players that can play in that position,” he said of the centre-half’s absence.
“Boyle was doing really well but our squad allows us to change someone if we need to. I decide who plays so nobody’s spot is a given. We train hard and what they do on the pitch tells me who is going to play.”
A welcome boost for Dundalk will be the return of Patrick McEleney. Josh Gatt has also overcome a cold but Dane Massey remains sidelined.
On McEleney, Giovagnoli said: “We have to see who we’re going to bring but the good news is that McEleney is healthy. That’s a good thing for the squad to have Pat healthy. We know his quality so I’m really happy that he’s back.”
Meanwhile, Dundalk have been drawn away to Bohemians in the quarter-finals of the FAI Cup. The tie will take place at Dalymount Park on the weekend ending November 15th.