Despite playing in the lucrative Europa League group stages, getting hit with a fine of €50,000 will prove an unwelcome distraction for Dundalk as they take on Molde at the Aker Stadion.

The Oriel Park club earned over €3m for making it through to the six-game format ahead of the knock-out phases, but the fine and corresponding ban for manager Filippo Giovagnoli will be felt in the pocket of the County Louth side. 

And as a result, there may be a renewed focus to gain a result from one of the team's remaining two group games in order to recoup the money that will be paid to UEFA as a result of the manager "shadow-coaching" throughout the earlier games. 

Coaching qualifications, or lack thereof, were what caused the Dundalk boss to be slapped with the ban ahead of the penultimate game against Molde in Norway tonight, however, a point gained on the road tonight would pay the fine and leave a tidy sum in the bank to add to the initial payment. 

Dundalk will sign off on a tumultuous season with three tough games inside eight days, and with so much at stake in the two Europa League games – they entertain Arsenal next Thursday night – there will be no talk of resting players for the vital FAI Cup final on Sunday. 

The Lilywhites return to the Aviva in a repeat of last season’s finale against Shamrock Rovers, and while the prestige of securing silverware and preventing the Hoops from winning the double, having already taken their league title, would appear a priority, the reality is that tonight’s game in Norway is more important to the overall health of the club. 

Filippo Giovagnoli was banned for shadow-coaching

The season started fine for the league champions who went into the coronavirus break in a good place, losing only one game, 3-2 away at Rovers, but on return, the club spirralled downwards, plummeting in the table, and getting bumped out of the Champions League. 

A change of manager and a change of fortune as the league form stablised and Europa League group stages came as a result of a kind draw and one very good performance away from home. 

With the league gone, Dundalk were faced with a jam-packed finish to their campaign as they endeavoured to secure European football for 2021, before concentrating on the FAI Cup and the high-profile Europa encounters. 

If anything, the run of games has led the team to start to show the form that Dundalk have become accustomed to over the past six seasons, where they won five league titles and previously qualified for the Europa Leage group stages. 

And while Dundalk are 0 from 4 so far in this extended European campaign, the Lilywhites have produced some of their best performances this season, losing by a one-goal margin to both Rapid Vienna and Molde, as well as matching Arsenal at the Emirates, aside from five minutes of madness either side of the break when they conceded three times. 

Dundalk have shown moments of quality throughout their four games but are yet to tie it all together into one performance, and they will be hoping that they can out-manoeuver Molde tonight and take a point or three home ahead of Sunday’s Cup final. 

The Norwegian side looked decidedly average throughout the opening 45 minutes when the two teams met at Tallaght Stadium in October, however, they showed what they are capable of in the first half of the second period as they turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. 

Sean Murray grabbed the Dundalk goal in the first meeting between the two sides

Shane Keegan will be combining two roles when he takes charge of the side for tonight’s encounter, and while he has assumed Giovagnoli’s managing responsibility as a result of the ban, his main role as opposition analyst should really come to the fore. 

Having already played each other, Keegan has an intimate knowledge of tonight's opponents, and by his own admission, Dundalk were left scratching their heads as to how they failed to take anything from the home game. 

Speaking at the pre-match press conference, Keegan admitted that they had forensically analysed the period of that game where Molde were allowed to dominate and ultimately do enough to take the three points. 

"They showed in the second half how much quality they have in the team in various positions," said Keegan.

"But any time you play a team for the second time, the key thing is how many lessons have you learned from the first game.

"And probably the first 20-25 minutes of the second half is the period that we have analysed more than any other. So it’s a case of A: how we try to stop that again? And B: if it is happening again, how do we try to counteract it? 

"We would like to think we have learned a couple of lessons that will stand to us." 

Keegan expects a different game on the Norwegians’ home patch and feels that they will be likely to come at Dundalk early on to stamp their authority on the game. 

"I’d say the big aim for them would be to hit the ground running and get off to a better start," said Keegan. 

"So we have to set ourselves for an onslaught from the very beginning, and that’s what we would expect most from them, especially because they are at home and from the first minute they will come at us." 

Dundalk will, no doubt, look to keep things tight in those opening exchanges, and if they can remain in the game to half-time and beyond, the latter stages of the game will really allow them to have a go and look to bring back a point or three, and with it the vital income that comes with it. 

And if the side needed a confidence booster going into the vital away game, which in reality is probably their best hope of taking points in this Europa campaign, putting eleven goals past Athlone in the Cup semi-final at the weekend will certainly have helped.