It proved a tough European campaign for the four Premier Division clubs who represented the League of Ireland this year.

Although Shamrock Rovers enjoyed a terrific 4-3 aggregate win over Brann in the Europa League first qualifying round, their hopes were ended at the next stage by Apollon Limassol, while Cork City and St Pat's both fell at the first hurdle against Progres and Norrkoping respectively. 

However it was Dundalk who headed for the Continent with the highest hopes. Having broken ground in their journey to the Europa League group stages back in 2016, the Lilywhites have been desperate to return to those lofty heights, despite losing some big names over the last three years.

They lost to Qarabag in the second round of Champions League qualifying before Slovan Bratislava ended their Europa League ambitions with a comprehensive 4-1 success over two legs.

The Louth club are on course to retain the Premier Division title, are into the EA Sports Cup final and could yet add another FAI Cup to the trophy cabinet but it's in Europe where Vinny Perth really wants to measure the club's progress. 

Taken over by a group of investors backed by American company Peak6 at the start of 2018, Dundalk want to at least make the play-off stages for the ultra-lucrative group stages with some degree of regularity. But it's not getting any easier.

"How do they approach Europe again next year?" asked Alan Cawley on the RTÉ Soccer Podcast.

"The argument is, do you bring in fellahs from outside (of Ireland), do you bring in the better quality of player?

"What's there will probably win them the league most years or get them into Europe at least, but because it’s becoming so much harder for the smaller nations, of which we are one, do you have to invest now in a better quality of player to make that breakthrough?

"At the moment we’re light years away from the group stages.

"Obviously with the investors Peak6, they’re looking at it from a financial point of view thinking, we’ll win the league here and qualify for Europe, get our million or whatever. It’s a dilemma for the owners now. The question for them, how far do they want to take it?

"At the moment with the squad Dundalk have, they’ll win the league - Shamrock Rovers might push them but they should win it comfortably.

"But to get into that group stage they probably are going to have to throw a few quid at it.

"To be fair to the owners, people might argue, 'they’ve done nothing with the ground’, but they have done a lot in terms of the resources, the off-the-field stuff, the preparation, they’ve video room, they have a lovely set-up.

"But this is where the question comes for them. Do they look at it and say, well we actually have t bring in a top quality centre-midfielder, a top quality centre-forward to make that breakthrough?"

You can listen to the full discussion below.

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