'We're representing every small club in Europe' - Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny has said that his side will be representing much more than just themselves and Ireland during their Champions League play-off first leg against Legia Warsaw on Wednesday night, but also small football clubs all over Europe.
Kenny was speaking in defence of the smaller European clubs, amid increased murmurings that the continent’s super clubs are pushing for greater representation in the competition for their nations, at the expense of underdogs from lesser leagues.
“With wealthy clubs trying to become wealthier, smaller clubs can be marginalised. There's even been talk at the top level of excluding certain countries from the Champions League and so forth. Football is a meritocracy, and any football team can beat any other team over two legs”, Kenny told reporters at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday.
“We're a club that normally gets 3,000 people at our matches. I've been informed, I’m not sure if it’s true, that we are the club with the lowest co-efficient to ever be in this round. I think what we represent is that for every small club in Europe, were we to progress, that really would be a sensational result and would give hope to every club in Ireland and every small club in Europe.”
“We've shown the ability to punch above our weight at this level and we want to show that over the two legs and create a massive result for football in Ireland, transform the landscape of football in Ireland by getting a result that would really give confidence to every player in Ireland.”
Kenny’s side will be hoping to make history and become the first Irish club to qualify for the Champions League group stages, and he emphasised that his team are more than just a reflection of Irish clubs and the Airtricity League, but in addition villages and towns throughout the whole island.
“It's not just the League of Ireland, it's grassroots football all throughout Ireland which connected with the performance with BATE. There's buses coming from different villages. We've players from Waterford, Galway, Mayo, Meath, Dublin, Derry, right throughout the country, the four provinces are all represented by our team, and I think people at grassroots level connected with the manner of the performance and not just the victory itself.
“There is a lot of goodwill towards that. Those various players have come up through the various schoolboy leagues, throughout the country. Some went to England at a young age, some went different routes, so there is that connection there.”
Kenny was able to deliver some good news ahead of his final preparations, announcing that centre half Brian Gartland was fit and in contention of a starting place, after his surgeon had “given the go-ahead to play with a particular cast”.
Updates on the fitness of attacking midfield duo Ronan Finn and Patrick McEleney were less definitive but Kenny remained hopeful, while also adamant that if he feels any injuries could negatively affect their performance they will not be playing.
“I think it’s that type of game where everyone wants to play," he stressed, "So I think that it’s most likely that we will have everybody, but then again, that’s for me to decide where everyone is in relation to their match fitness and what impact their injuries can have on their performance. So those are decisions I will make.”
Dundalk have sold over 26,000 tickets for the game and are hoping that a large walk-up crowd on the day will increase the turn-out.