Europa League Postcard from Estonia

Sun, Jul 15 2018

An empty Kadriorg Stadium following the end of Dundalk’s first leg win over Levadia Tallinn in the first qualifying round of the Europa League. Credit: Niall Newberry (ETPhotos)

Niall Newberry reports from Tallinn

Friday has arrived and I’m on my way home from a busy few days covering the Europa League qualifier in Estonia. I’ve barely had time to catch a breath over the past few days (in the best way possible) between preparing match previews, reports, social media posts, not to mention taking in everything the beautiful city of Tallinn had to offer. 

As I tap out this postcard, I can look to my right outside the window of my evening flight – the sun is about to turn in for the night and I’m yearning to do just the same.

An arduous schedule had begun in the early hours of Wednesday morning and it was lunch time by the time I arrived in Estonia’s capital. Searching for my accommodation, I’m wondering if I’ve come to the right place at all for I’m yet to see any of the travelling contingent. 

My flippant concerns are put to rest before too long however, when I coincidentally bump into the Dundalk squad, who are courteous as ever. Out for a stroll, they look extremely relaxed as I wish them all the best of luck.

Despite the lack of sleep from the previous night, most of day one is spent wandering the beautiful cobbled streets of Vanalinn (the old town). Suddenly a noise grabs my attention – the Lilywhite army has arrived and they are, let’s just say, educating the locals about a place called Drogheda through song!

From there, I start making my way back to the hotel to do some last-minute research on Dundalk’s opposition and type up a match preview. I also take in the World Cup semi-final between Croatia and England on a not so modern television screen before getting some much-needed rest.  

It’s now day two and almost time for the main event as Dundalk are ready to face Levadia Tallinn in the first leg of the Europa League’s first qualifying round.

Before that, a visit is made to the nearby Kadriorg Palace, which has housed some of Estonia’s finest artwork for the past century. I’m left hoping that the only art that remains to be seen is in the form of Dundalk’s display out on the pitch.

The time has come for me to make my way to the Kadriorg Stadium, a venue that is probably best known for hosting the match that never happened when Scotland turned up to play Estonia in a 1998 World Cup qualifier only to have no opposition show up due to a boycott. 

The first person that introduces himself to me is George Juhnev, the Levadia team doctor. We have a brief discussion about football and the weather, which he in jest bemoans given the fact he’s originally from Siberia.

George brings me to the dressing room and introduces me simply as a “journalist from Ireland” to club executive Sergei Hohlov-Simson, once a Levadia player and Estonian international. I ask how he is doing to which he jokingly responds, “I’ll tell you after the game.” 

Sergei then directs me to the press area which is a lot more spacious than the one we’re used to at Oriel Park. I’m ridiculously early but it isn’t too long before I’m surrounded by many familiar faces from the Dundalk media. 

Next to arrive are the strong and vocal travelling support, who appear to have just about outnumbered the locals – although many of the Levadia fans were late into the stadium for whatever reason.

The hosts have the better of the opening exchanges and it soon becomes evidently clear that Dundalk were not going to have things all their own way like many had anticipated.

Stephen Kenny’s side are professional in their approach though and weather the early storm, calmly settling into the match as Levadia slowly but surely run out of steam – a trap many League of Ireland sides have fallen victim to. 

The Estonian cup winners are unsuspecting of this and eight minutes into the second half, Jamie McGrath sets Michael Duffy on his way. His low cross evades the Levadia defence but not the inrushing Dylan Connolly, who scores to bring home a crucial away goal (see full match report here).

An indication of just how far the club has come under Kenny is the fact that afterwards the mood around the camp is one of disappointment with the result, despite winning without conceding away from home in Europe.

The manager and players feel they should have increased their lead heading into the second leg at Oriel.

The following morning, I take in (from a distance of course) part of Levadia’s training session at their Maarjamäe training complex. From there, some more sights are taken in before the time comes for me to say goodbye to the city of Tallinn.