Fatigue has Dundalk close to 'tipping point'
Title in sight for champions but Kenny fears impact of schedule will show against classy Zenit operation
Buoyed by the outcome of a dramatic Monday, Stephen Kenny's Dundalk squad gathered last night to start cramming in study of Zenit St Petersburg ahead of the toughest test of their European adventure.
The fear is that fatigue will stiffen the task they face tomorrow evening with Kenny noting issues with the energy levels in what turned out to be a routine win over Longford that meant even more with Cork losing to St Pat's.
In reality, it means the Louth men have the opportunity to remove the difficulty from a finish to their league campaign that consists of three matches in six days. Victory against Bohemians on Sunday will wrap up a third title on the trot with two games to spare.
But they face a high-profile date with Zenit before then with Kenny afraid that the sell-out crowd in Tallaght Stadium will be deprived of a fully tuned-up Dundalk side because the efforts of their schedule are kicking in.
Star man Daryl Horgan was cited as an example.
"We're going to have to dig something up and play in a cunning way to conserve energy," said Kenny ahead of a gathering last night for a two-hour video session. As the majority of his leading lights are recovering from four matches in a 10-day spell, training in Tallaght today will be light.
Injuries are a major concern. "We've boys struggling who never get injured," says captain Stephen O'Donnell who is definitely out of the match with a hamstring problem. "There has to be a tipping point. You can't just keep throwing lads out there every couple of days."
O'Donnell was speaking at the announcement of the PFAI awards shortlists with the midfielder up for the main honour along with Horgan and Cork pair Greg Bolger and Sean Maguire.
Derry goalkeeper Ger Doherty is the only player from outside the top two to make the Premier League XI as voted by their peers.
That reflects the tale of the campaign, yet it's Dundalk that are in better spirits after wresting control of the title race with O'Donnell paying tribute to a team which he says is a 'distance' ahead of the successful Bohemians (2008) and Shamrock Rovers (2011) sides that he won league titles with.
Yet they are desperate to do themselves justice in Europe in front of a global audience. In addition to the loss of O'Donnell, they have concerns over John Mountney, Chris Shields and Ronan Finn.
"Ideally, you'd have a full six days to prepare for Zenit because Zenit are a massive team, a Champions League team," said O'Donnell.
"You've strived for this over the last few years and then, when it comes, it's sort of an after-thought really because you're so hung up on trying to win the league.
"On that side, it's frustrating. There's no way anyone can play at their maximum level after that run, it's not physically possible."