Tonight, two neighbours from Apecchio, a village of 1,800 people in the eastern Italian region of Marche, lead a club from Ireland's smallest county into the group stages of the Europa League.
Dundalk boss Filippo Giovagnoli (49), a journeyman in Serie C and Serie D in his youth, was a first-time visitor to these shores when he landed in August.
His assistant Giuseppe Rossi, 10 years his junior, had visited the Guinness Storehouse and the Galway Races on a holiday in 2004. The idea that he might achieve his football ambitions here would never have crossed his mind.
Vinny Perth's abrupt departure from the Dundalk job in August set off the chain of events that would change the course of their lives.
Last Friday, on the morning of the Premier Division game with Bohemians, they made the short walk to Oriel Park from their temporary home - a B&B situated just across the road - to discuss their shared journey.
DMcD: How did you meet?
FILIPPO: We lived in the same building. There was four or five apartments. I was on one side, he was the other side. I was living there with my mum and my grandpa and grandma in one apartment.
GIUSEPPE: I lived with my mum and my dad and my brother.
FILIPPO: He was younger than me. When I started to play soccer professionally, I left Apecchio to play around Italy a little bit. He was a child, he was growing up. When I was 20, he was 10.
GIUSEPPE: Sometimes, we would talk in the mornings, it was usually a Monday when he came back. He was the only professional player in our town. It was a big thing for Apecchio. I remember when you played against Sampdoria?
FILIPPO: Yes, when I played with Arezzo, we would play friendlies in pre-season against the big teams, so we played Roma, Sampdoria, Fiorentina. I scored against Fiorentina.
GIUSEPPE: Apecchio is a small town so when someone is doing something, everyone there is happy.
FILIPPO: Like a family.
DMcD: Tell me about Apecchio?
FILIPPO: The environment is like here. Maybe here is colder. It's close to the mountains. People do any kind of jobs. Now, the production of beer is very important. And truffles.
GIUSEPPE: We have a big (mineral) water company.
FILIPPO: We have a lot of natural products. A lot of people from Apecchio travel, they go to different places and work around the world. But when we can, we always go back to spend time there.
GIUSEPPE: Now, Dundalk is the most important thing in Apecchio. They follow every game, they come to a bar to watch the games.
FILIPPO: I have always travelled. I played for 15 years between professional and semi-professional. I was always making money playing soccer. In Italy, you can sometimes make more money if you are semi-professional. I was studying in university as well, sports science. I was making good money, trust me, more than you might make in the top division here.
DMcD: Giuseppe, on the first day you were here, you said Filippo was like an animal on the pitch?
FILIPPO: I was nasty.
GIUSEPPE: Soccer was different than now, even with how the ref interpreted the game.
FILIPPO: Our (Dundalk) players are gentlemen. They play hard but they are gentlemen. When I played, to hurt somebody was normal. It was like that. I need the contract, I have to feed my people. You had to be strong to survive. I think that was the best part of my life, just travelling around playing soccer. You go to towns like Dundalk, or bigger places than here, and you are kind of famous. A player from the team. You are young, you feel strong.
DMcD: So how did the coaching career start?
FILIPPO: I was thinking to do a different career. Maybe in a gym or as a personal trainer, but the team I was playing for at the end asked me to coach. At the beginning I said no but I accepted it and my life changed. I realised it was what I wanted to do. I was the coach of the U-19 team (at a club called Gubbio) and then AC Milan, through one of the managers of their camps, asked me to work with them. They then asked me to go and do it in America, in New York. I said, 'Let's try it for one year.'
GIUSEPPE: This was 2013. I didn't play professionally. I had played youth football and was a couple of years in a professional academy then but I studied in college and I started to coach. Filippo knew we were doing the same thing. He would call me about opportunities. I worked with the AC Milan camps too, we worked with players in the region who couldn't move to Milan. I went to London for a year. And then Filippo called me and asked me to go to America.
The pair chuckle while discussing the contrast between the pace of life in New York and Apecchio. "Everything was big, everything was faster," smiles Giuseppe.
Filippo's reputation grew to the extent that he gained director status with Metropolitan Oval, an academy in Queens, and brought Giuseppe with him.
Two months ago, they were in Apecchio waiting for the visa to return to their settled life in America, when MetOval's sporting director Jeffrey Saunders, an ex-footballer and businessman, rang Filippo out of the blue.
FILIPPO: Jeffrey is a good guy. He is also the president of a team in Portugal (Estoril Praia) in the second division. He said to me, 'Listen, an opportunity has come up. It's for three months. I gave your name to the owners (Peak6) because I know them from another business and they need a coach with this kind of profile and I think you completely fit it.' I said, 'OK, they can call me.' I think they were interviewing other people. There was a list of 25-30 people. So I rang Giuseppe and said, 'Let's start to study everything about the team so when they call me, I know my stuff.' I think you were out biking Giuseppe?
GIUSEPPE: Yes, I was out biking with my friend. I got the phonecall and I said to him, 'I've got to go.'
FILIPPO: We looked up all the games we could find on the online platforms. I went to his house and he was making a report of one game and I was making a report of another game and we started to act like we were the coaches already. We were motivated for the interview. I think the owners appreciated that because this was the description that Jeffrey gave to them. These are two animals and they're going to come to do the job.
DMcD: Did you always plan to work at senior level eventually?
FILIPPO: Jeffrey was thinking that in our development, that was the plan. In the summer, he asked me to go to a team in Austin, a USL (United Soccer League) team but I said no. Maybe later he was also thinking I could go to Portugal in his team. He knew that we could do it. I think working in the youth is the best way to develop a coach.
GIUSEPPE: If you start from the youths and go to the first team, I think that's easier than going from the first team to the youths.
FILIPPO: Yes, with youths you need to know details. Tactical, technical, everything. With the adults, it's easier, the players are already developed.
GIUSEPPE: You can go into technical and tactical details and work with them easier.
FILIPPO: I'm still surprised that people think a big name (ex-player) will know all of these things. If you don't study, you do not. You have the knowledge of the game you played that is a help and you have credibility but you don't know the game really. You can't be an engineer because your father was an engineer. That's bulls**t. That's why I am still surprised when people say, 'But you don't have a background' and I say, 'Yeah, I understand, but let me do it, let me try.'
DMcD: When they (Dundalk's owners led by chairman Bill Hulsizer) said you have the job, what did you think?
FILIPPO: I said, 'I was coming, get me the contract' and I will sign it.
GIUSEPPE: We left two days later.
FILIPPO: That was Friday. On Monday we left. That weekend, we preparing the periodisation training for the week, we were talking with the board. I didn't even have much stuff to pack. I have this pair of shoes here (laughs). It was so fast, we didn't even know what we were going to bring, with this weather. We were always dressed like this (they are both in their club tracksuits).
DMcD: How aware were you of the response? There were people in the club - including players - wondering what the hell was going on. Then there was a lot of Italian stereotypes going around, the Super Mario Brothers pictures. Did you see it?
FILIPPO: Not much really. We were told, 'They're killing you guys'. It's fair, because nobody knows us. This is something that makes us stronger. I think New York prepares us very well for everything because to live in New York, you have to be strong.
GIUSEPPE: We were laughing. We took everything as a joke. But when we step onto the field, we changed completely. I change my personality completely there and I think Filippo does too. My thought was, 'Right, we want to show you.'
DMcD: Tell me about the first day. You knew what people at the club were thinking?
FILIPPO: Yes, of course, the players were looking at us like we were aliens. But then, we had a meeting, we were strong in the meeting and we said, 'This is what it's going to be like'. I think the staff that were here were thinking they would be running practice and we would be watching, but I said, 'No, we do everything, you watch.'
GIUSEPPE: For a professional and really successful team like Dundalk, it was a shock. They were maybe expecting a big name. Your background can help you when you step into a press conference, it can protect you. Your background can make journalists quiet. But it's what you do on the field that makes a difference.
FILIPPO: The first practice, we were talking about details and the players appreciated that. We were really detailed and clear in our information. Trust me, the players could understand we knew what we were doing. Then they could find out if we were crazy or nice. We are simple people, hard-working people, honest, we're not going to hurt people.
GIUSEPPE: The attitude of the players was amazing, it was unbelievable. From the first day.
FILIPPO: I think the players found that we were unselfish coaches. A coach that doesn't work tactically on the players and tries to get a result, that is a selfish coach. The unselfish coaches try to work with the players and improve them. We will be very happy if one of our players is picked for the national team or signs a contract in England. Of course, we have to take care of the club. But staying here, developing the players will be the main job for us.
DMcD: You've spoken before about feeling there were knives in your back. You had the kamikaze mission text that got out (Filippo described the job as such in a message to a friend that was leaked). Were you ever hurt or insulted by the coverage?
FILIPPO: Some of it, yes. To be honest. Even as a man. Not just as a professional. I understand why people would be sceptical, I get it. But if you become a little bit offensive, I don't get it. But again it's something that gives you more motivation. Like, 'OK, I'm going to show you man'. And I'm still waiting. Oh yeah, I'm still waiting. I would never forget some things. The day is going to come where I am going to say something. It's too soon now. We have a lot to achieve.
Ireland remains something of a mystery. The hectic fixture schedule and the Covid-19 restrictions have prevented exploration beyond trips to Newgrange, Carlingford and a flying visit to Belfast. Their first match, an FAI Cup tie in Cobh, brought them down south and the motorway journey actually reminded them of the landscape at home. Of course, there were trips to Andorra and Moldova too, the back-to-back wins that set up the €3m Aviva Stadium victory over Faroese underdogs KI Klaksvik. Tonight, they host Molde in Tallaght Stadium. Next week, it's Arsenal at the Emirates.
They have been struck by the kind comments from fans who see them around Dundalk and members of the local Italian community have reached out to welcome them as friends.
Yet they are still operating in a bubble of sorts. There was no party to celebrate delivering the group-stage ambition, and there's a surreal aspect to this run compared to the festival buzz around Stephen Kenny's 2016 breakthrough.
Clearly, the pair have a niggling feeling that the scale of their achievement has been underestimated.
FILIPPO: The key was the players accepted us. They trust us, we trust them. Because you don't do what we did in Sheriff (the penalty shoot-out win away to Moldovan champions Sheriff Tiraspol) without that. What we did in Sheriff was a Picasso. You understand that?
GIUSEPPE: This is the only thing that has disappointed me. Some people do not realise what the players did that night. We were there. We saw the performance, we saw the opponent. They did something unbelievable.
FILIPPO: And they played in the way we were thinking. That's why we say a Picasso. Against a team that is stronger and richer. Some of their players earn €20,000 per month. They are built to be in the group stages. That night was special but then (you are made to feel) it's like you did nothing. People feel you should win. Now people think we should beat Molde and Rapid Vienna and that the bracket is easy. That's bulls**t. That's not reality. Trust me, we're going to fight. And we are going to maybe disappoint people, some of them, but reality is reality. When a team from this town does this, it should be more appreciated. But, no, (they say) the 'group is easy'. What? No, it's easy for them, not for us. We are going to have to bleed to make one point.
DMcD: What's your average day like now?
FILIPPO: We come here at 9 in the morning, maybe 8.30am. We finish practice around 3pm and when the players leave, we work out ourselves in the gym. And then we go back home, we prepare practice for next day. And then we have dinner, and call our families. I go to bed at 9 o'clock!
GIUSEPPE: My girlfriend is in the US, she's American. So the night-time here is the best time to talk.
DMcD: Filippo, you have a wife and son in Apecchio. They were waiting to go back to America. What do they make of this?
FILIPPO: My son is asking me every day, 'When will you come back?' He's 10. For my wife, there was a lot of emotions in the European run. I think she lost weight in the two or three weeks. She was more nervous than me. She doesn't sleep. I said, 'Well, I slept, you should sleep.' But for people that don't do the job, they just feel the stress. We have to perform, and then we sleep.
GIUSEPPE: My girlfriend has a son. At the beginning, I said we would finish the season in November, so I told him I was going to come back to America then but now we qualified for the Europa League. So now it's December. He said, 'Tell me if I have to call somebody to change the schedule.'
FILIPPO: I will need to go to America to pick up some stuff eventually. Giuseppe, his girlfriend is there, he has family there, so for him it's different.
GIUSEPPE: I have to go back to get married. We were planning for January. But now we have to anticipate (a wedding) in December.
FILIPPO: Unless it's the first week of January, maybe, it depends when everything restarts here.
DMcD: Have you stopped to think about how many people will be watching your games in the Europa League now? Not just in Dundalk or Apecchio but they will be available to watch all around the world.
FILIPPO: We try not to think about it much. Sometimes, we have some funny discussions, just saying, 'Can you imagine?' but then we say, let's not think about that. Let's think about Bohemians or Cork.
DMcD: You're going away to Arsenal next week. It's only human to be excited thinking about that.
GIUSEPPE: Even when we stepped into Andorra on the first day, and they gave me the pass to wear around my neck with Europa League on it, I felt something. I was thinking, 'Look, in August I was watching the final of the Europa League and now we are playing to go to play in the Europa League.'
FILIPPO: Maybe we will play the team that's going to win the Europa League.
GIUSEPPE: When I was living in London, I went to the Emirates but only outside the ground, I couldn't go in. I went to Stamford Bridge to watch a game, and also to Craven Cottage. Now, I go back to London to play in the Emirates.
FILIPPO: Of course, this is unbelievable. It's a dream. But then when you come inside the dream, it becomes normality. And then you want to perform.