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Filippo declares: Relax, let's do it!

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Dundalk coach Filippo Giovagnoli . Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Dundalk coach Filippo Giovagnoli . Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Dundalk coach Filippo Giovagnoli . Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Dundalk boss Filippo Giovagnoli admits "I don't know what is realistic" ahead of the Lilywhites' Europa League campaign.

The League of Ireland champions begin with a home game against Molde at the Aviva Stadium on Thursday October 22, before heading to the Emirates seven days later to take on Arsenal.

And while Dundalk have been down this road before, it's a major learning curve for the 49-year-old Italian, who was coaching academy players in New York just a few months ago. Instead, he now faces one of the world's biggest clubs.

But Giovagnoli has grabbed his Oriel Park opportunity with both hands, and has also silenced the doubters who felt that his appointment was an indication that Dundalk was a club in crisis.

Some crisis!

"It's a very difficult group,' admits the Lilywhites' boss. "It's going to be really difficult for us - but it's also very exciting, to be playing at this level against those teams. Can you imagine playing at the Emirates?

Dream

"It's really a dream come true, but we're going to prepare as we would against any team. But we also have nothing to lose. We just need to be more relaxed, compared to how we were on Thursday.

"We saw that night that if you are nervous, then you don't perform. You don't play at your best. But we got through. That was the objective. Now we will enjoy the rest of the tournament."

When Dundalk qualified for the group stages of the Europa League in 2016, they picked up four points, unlike Shamrock Rovers, who failed to earn any in 2011.

This time around, while Arsenal would seem an impossible task, perhaps Dundalk fans will be optimistic about picking up points against Rapid Vienna and Molde, the other clubs in Group B.

"We want to do well now we are there," he insists. "Every day is a new challenge. But now the club is more unified. We have built this family atmosphere where everyone feels involved.

"We're going to need to play with a lot of heart. We need to be a bit crazy. But anything is possible in football. I am an example of that," he adds. "I don't know what is realistic.

"There is nothing to be afraid about these games. We're not going out to war and having to kill someone, or get killed."

After drawing Mikel Arteta's multi-millionaires in the Europa League, it's back to League of Ireland basics today for Dundalk as they face relegation strugglers Finn Harps at Oriel Park.

And this game is about a lot more than bread and butter for the Lilywhites.

Stuck in sixth place in the Premier Division, they're far from guaranteed European football for next year. They need a top-three finish.

Europe's where the real money is for League of Ireland clubs - Dundalk's qualification for the Europa League group stages earns them about 25 times what they'd get if they won the league title.

"We need to get three points against Finn Harps, this is mandatory," insists Giovagnoli. "It's a must. We're going to play the best team we can. We couldn't do that against Shamrock Rovers, but it is what it is."

In Giovagnoli's home village of Apecchio, in Italy's Marche, where his wife and child are currently living, this weekend's annual 'Beer and Truffle' festival will be screening today's game.

The bizarre is becoming the ordinary in this remarkable story. But the Italian remains grounded.

"Against Finn Harps, we're going to perform," he says. "We will be super-focused on the league, and we're going to prepare as best we can for those games. It's our priority to perform in the league.

"For us, this game is vital for our future. The Finn Harps' game is more important for us than Arsenal. Trust me."