Sunday 4 December 2016

'Experience' key as Dundalk plan for Icelandic champions

Published 21/06/2016 | 02:30

New Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers Photo: PA
New Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers Photo: PA

FH Hafnardjodour may not spark the trepidation that Champions League group stage regulars BATE Borisov did when Dundalk were pulled out of the hat this time 12 months ago, but the Icelandic champions' regularity in Europe will be enough for the Lilywhites not to take them for granted.

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Given that Dundalk could have drawn Celtic, BATE, Copenhagen, Red Star Belgrade or Rosenborg, they will be quite content with facing FH but as manager Stephen Kenny put it, they are "a bit of an unknown quantity".

Should Dundalk progress, they stand to pocket €1.2m, and while drawing Celtic may have been a more glamorous tie, playing FH gives the League of Ireland champions a real chance of getting through.

FH have been Icelandic champions in seven of the last 12 years and have played in Europe in every season since 2004.

Former Lilywhites striker Steven Lennon, who played nine times for the border club in 2010, is in his third season with FH and last year scored a career best 12 goals. Ex-Man United youth midfielder Sam Hewson is also part of a squad that is largely made up of homegrown players.

Unstuck

Dundalk came unstuck against a more experienced BATE side last season but Kenny is confident that his players have a better understanding of what it takes on the European stage.

"The six European matches that we have played over the past two seasons have given us some great experience," he said.

"When we started two years ago we had hardly anyone in the squad with European experience.

"The experience that the players have got has been great and will really benefit them. We have played against some good opposition in Europe and have done brilliantly."

In the Europa League qualifying draw, Cork City and Linfield will meet in a mouthwatering All-Ireland clash. The Belfast club advanced to the Setanta Cup final (1-0) when the two sides last met in 2007.

Shamrock Rovers supporters will look forward to a trip to Lapland to play Finnish side Rovaniemi (RoPS) while St Patrick's Athletic will be quietly happy with facing Jeunesse Esch from Luxembourg. Should any of the Irish clubs win their tie, they will earn ¤410,000.

Brendan Rodgers will take Celtic to either Gibraltar or Estonia for his first competitive match as manager. The Scottish champions will play the winners of the first-round tie between Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar or Flora Talli.

Rodgers is aiming to steer Celtic to the Champions League group stages for the first time since 2013.

Irish Independent

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