Dundalk plot BATE revenge mission
Massey relishing chance to fly Irish flag in Champions League
Published 26/07/2016 | 02:30
Stephen Kenny had just finished a training session with Rafa Benitez and his Newcastle squad at their Carton House base when he was asked his thoughts on Dundalk drawing BATE Borisov for a second year running.
A wry smile came across his face. His phone had been switched off and the Dundalk manager had yet to hear the Champions League qualifying draw but his facial expression spoke volumes.
Last year when travelling to face the Belarusian champions, who are regulars in the group stages of the Champions League, deep down there must have been an element of fear that comes with every trip into the unknown.
Twelve months later and the sides meet again, this time in the third qualifying round (one further than last year) and Kenny's smile was one that suggested 'we owe them one'.
The celebrations of the BATE players following the 0-0 second-leg result at Oriel Park told you everything you needed to know about just how close they had been pushed by Dundalk.
BATE were almost caught off guard by the Lilywhites' intensity in the first leg in Belarus, but Dave McMillan's away goal wasn't enough as his side went down 2-1. But a year on, there is a sense that lessons have been learned.
Considering that just two of the current squad (Robbie Benson and Patrick McEleney) weren't involved in that tie, Kenny and his charges know exactly what to expect in the Borisov Arena this evening.
"Last year we went out there, attacked, and enforced our game on them," defender Dane Massey recalled.
"We took them by surprise. I think they thought we'd sit in, but we don't sit in. Why play a different style of play when we are brilliant at what we do? An attacking team that presses teams high, that's what we're good at.
"It won't be as hard to get as much information as we're familiar. They're a strong outfit, strong everywhere.
"(Vitali) Rodionov head-butted me last year, came out and apologised and we expected him to get a ban but UEFA didn't ban him, so we definitely owe him.
"It was gut-wrenching watching them last year because we came so close. We tracked their progress when they were playing in the group stages, but it drives you on again.
"We wanted to do it again. That's what we were saying, and all of the pre-season up in Oriel Park, when we were back a week early running in the snow, this is what it was for. We all had our sights set on this."
The six-day turnaround from last week's dramatic victory (on away goals) over FH in Iceland is hardly ideal but Dundalk travel to Belarus missing only Brian Gartland (wrist).
While the League of Ireland champions have already pocketed €1.2m for getting this far, they have their eyes set on the penultimate round and the €2.4 prize money that comes with it.
On the face of it, the scale of the task might just be as tough, particularly against a team whose budget is on another planet, but there is a sense among the Dundalk camp that the narrow gap that existed last year has been somewhat bridged.
Should Dundalk prevail against BATE over the two legs, they would be just one tie away from sealing a place in the Champions League proper, while the consolation prize of a place in the group stages of the Europa League isn't all that bad either.
Like Dundalk, BATE lead their domestic league - they are in line for a staggering 11th consecutive title. They have also recently resigned former Arsenal and Barcelona playmaker Alexander Hleb.
But Dundalk are unlikely to fear the 35-year-old whose best days are behind him.
Instead, they will be keen to keep the focus on themselves, and in particular McMillan, whose brace in Iceland took his tally to nine goals in his last four starts.
"We gave them a shock last year and I think that if we play to our full potential this year we have a real shout in getting through," the in-form striker said, echoing Massey's feelings.
BATE won't be taken by surprise again but at the same time, Dundalk will not fear taking the game to them.
Dundalk are on a revenge mission and Kenny will be hoping that come next Tuesday night after the second leg in Tallaght, his wry smile will have turned into a broad beam.
BATE Borisov v Dundalk, Live, Eir Sport 1, 7.00 (Irish time)