Dundalk are well used to European trips at this stage but today’s journey to Hungary for their Champions League qualifier with Slovenian champions NK Celje on Wednesday will have an altogether different feel about it due to Covid-19.
The fact that Slovenia is not on the Government’s Green List means the game was unable to take place in Celje, the country’s fourth largest town, which is located around 78km north east of the capital Ljubljana and 119km north west of the Croatian capital of Zagreb.
Instead, the one legged match will take place behind closed doors in Újpest, just outside Budapest, in the Szusza Ferenc Stadion.
Dundalk have previous in Hungary having lost 8-1 to Vasas in 1967 while they fared somewhat better in drawing 1-1 with Kispest Honved 24 years later in 1991.
While there are good memories from both trips, the current generation are likely to have to rely on a positive result on the field if a similar tale can be told this time around.
UEFA guidelines mean they must remain in a bubble, with all members of the travelling party having been tested for Covid-19 at least twice before taking flight from Dublin Airport this morning.
Trips away often give brief windows to explore a city while getting out for fresh air but this too will be restricted, with a pre-match training session this evening and the game tomorrow the only time those travelling will be permitted to leave the hotel.
Even interaction amongst the players will be limited within the hotel with social distancing measures in place for dining and individual rooms assigned to each compared to the usual sharing situation.
Speaking after training on Monday, Dundalk boss Vinny Perth says the restrictions meant the side travelled 24 hours later than they normally would. While he has no complaints about the guidelines, the 44-year-old said all at the club would miss the togetherness that the usual European adventure brings about.
Explaining the nature of the bubble, Perth said: “Everybody was tested Sunday. We tested the players the week before as well so everybody in our group at the moment is showing Covid clear.
“You’re trying to keep people in the bubble as much as possible. We can’t all live together but as much as possible we’ll travel together.
“Normally we would fly out today to acclimatise because the weather is going to be somewhere between 25 and 33 degrees give or take but we’ll have to sit in a hotel. We’re not allowed leave to go to a coffee shop so we felt it was better that we arrive a bit later.
“We’re even in single rooms so there is none of that group togetherness about us. It’s just a case of turning up to the airport and travelling as normal other than that.
“We have our own chartered flight that you have to use. Only ourselves and officials are allowed on it and they had to be tested as well. I think between officials, players and backroom staff I think there’s nearly 40 people travelling and they’ve all been Covid tested so that’s our bubble. It’s our hotel. No one is allowed to leave the hotel other than for training or the match.”
Last year Perth spoke about the tradition of the squad grabbing a coffee together the day of a European away trip and he says that will be missed this time around.
“You’d rather be able to leave the hotel obviously,” he said.
“Over the years we’ve always been very relaxed about press lads coming to the hotel and supporters would have seen us walking around town going to coffee shops. Players would mingle there but that’s part of the problem for us at the moment.
“Our canteen at the moment has no tables in it and you lose that bit of togetherness a bit as a result but the world has changed and it’s the same for everybody else.
“There is a difficulty because normally the day of the match around lunchtime the players would go to a coffee shop together, have a cup of coffee and walk back. Small things little things like that will be missed but it is what it is.
“It’s the same for both teams. Even acclimatising to the weather it would help if you were able to be out and about in it, albeit it’s not that we’re out on a tourist bus or anything but being out and walking through a park, going to a coffee shop and back to the hotel is nice.
“Again, it’s certainly not ideal but the world has changed and it is what it is,” said Perth.
One plus for the Lilywhites manager is the fact that neither side are at home.
“Yeah, it’s probably a bit of a plus,” he said when asked about the neutral venue.
“It’s new surroundings for them as well obviously. If it had been a one-off game and they had fans at home for argument’s sake then it would have been extremely difficult no matter who you are going over there but this neutralises it to a point.”
Andy Boyle (quad), Cameron Dummigan and John Mountney (both ankle) are all doubts for the game.
“Andy Boyle and Cameron Dummigan are struggling and John Mountney came off the other day so he’ll have a fitness test,” said Perth.
“He did some training today and will have a fitness test tomorrow but apart from the three of them everyone else is flying fit. We have no issues other than that.”
Wednesday’s game kicks-off at 6pm Irish time and will be broadcast live on RTÉ One. Coverage gets underway at 5.45pm.