Dundalk begin what they hope will be a prolonged Europa League campaign on Thursday when they take on Estonian cup winners Levadia Tallinn at the Kadriorg Stadium (kick-off 5pm Irish time).
The League of Ireland side may be the favourites to negotiate this tie but any club that has played in European competition for 22 years in a row, which Levadia Tallinn have, cannot be underestimated.
The nine-time Estonian champions haven’t won their domestic championship since 2014, however, and were beaten 6-2 on aggregate by Cork City at the same stage of this competition last year.
They're much different team this season though. Their biggest attacking threat to Dundalk is unquestionably 24-year-old Ukrainian striker Roman Debelko, who has scored 16 goals in just 18 appearances since joining the club on loan from Karpaty Lviv.
Two more players that the Lilywhites will also have to keep tabs on are midfielders Yuriy Tkachuk – also on loan from Karpaty – and former Bosnia and Herzegovina international Muamer Svraka.
Sergei Lepmets, Dmitri Kruglov, Markus Jurgenson, Igor Morozov, Pavel Marin and Mark Oliver Roosnupp are all current Estonia internationals too so Dundalk should be approaching this match with relative caution.
The Lilywhites are sweating over the fitness of Michael Duffy, who had to be taken off due to a suspected groin injury in their league win against St Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park last week.
Two players who definitely will not feature are long-term absentee Stephen O’Donnell and Stephen Folan, who is recovering from a knee problem, while Dean Jarvis is doubtful due to a hip injury.
Dundalk may have beaten teams ranked much higher than Levadia in previous years but manager Stephen Kenny is taking nothing for granted and he expects a tough passage to the second qualifying round, where Cypriot outfit AEK Larnaca await the winners.
“We have a very tough game ahead of us. We have a battle to win. We have to earn the right to get the victory. There’s a real determination to go and win the game,” said Kenny.
“We are on a terrific run at the moment with ten straight (league) victories. Levadia are having a good season. They are a good side but we want to win and we intend to do so.
“We are here to do a job. There has been big changes this year with Levadia – they have a lot of new players and a new Serbian coach (Aleksandar Rogic).
“They are a good team. They are a very attacking team. They seem to really attack with four forwards.
“It is set up for a very interesting game overall. Levadia are a very well drilled and structured team so we will have to earn the right to win.
One man that could prove to be the match winner over both legs of this tie is Patrick Hoban, who took his number of goals this season to 21 with a brace in the 3-1 win over St Pats last Friday.
“It’s a good break from the league for us now playing in Europe. We have to keep focusing on ourselves and it’s a big game for both of us in Tallinn. It’s going to be 50-50,” said Hoban.
“They are strong, they compete and they make it difficult. It’s not going to be easy for us but we have to make sure we are ready. I am looking forward to it. Hopefully we can get the win.”
Referee: Bojan Nikolic (Serbia)
Levadia Tallinn are no strangers to followers of the League of Ireland, for this is the fifth time that they’ve been drawn against Irish opposition.
Their only success thus far came in the 2004/05 UEFA Cup against Bohemians, who were managed by none other than Stephen Kenny.
This will be the 21st time that Dundalk have played in Europe under the management of Stephen Kenny and of those encounters, the Lilywhites have lost by more than a goal on just two occasions.
This will also be the first time ever that Dundalk have featured in European competition for five seasons in a row.
The club’s previous best sequence came during the Jim McLaughlin era, who’s Dundalk team played in Europe for four consecutive campaigns between 1979/80 and 1982/83.
Levadia Tallinn 7/4; Draw 21/10; Dundalk 6/4.
Levadia Tallinn 1-2 Dundalk
Injured: Stephen Folan (knee), Stephen O’Donnell (broken leg).
Doubtful: Michael Duffy (groin), Dean Jarvis (hip).