Sunday 4 December 2016

Kenny parks Euro push in bid to seal 'incredible' title treble

Dundalk v Bohemians, live, tomorrow, RTE2, 7.0

Published 22/10/2016 | 02:30

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny:
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny: "If we’re less focused than we need to be, we’ll get turned over by Bohemians.” Photo: Sportsfile

On Thursday night, Dundalk were part of a game that was watched live in 37 countries. Tomorrow's date with Bohemians is all about making headlines on their own patch.

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After emerging with credit but no points from the encounter with Zenit St Petersburg, Stephen Kenny's tired squad entered recovery mode again yesterday.

They have an obvious incentive to pick themselves up again as victory over Bohs will deliver a third domestic title in a row for a side that has won friends in new places on account of their European exploits.

It's safe to assume that when Kenny's squad watched Euro 2016, they could never have imagined that Belgian star Axel Witsel - a shining light in his country's destruction of Ireland - would end up in Tallaght a few months later discussing Dundalk's approach.

"They can play and with this fighting spirit and this motivation they can qualify from the group," said Zenit's €25m-rated midfielder.

"We know kick and rush, but no they played good football and tried to win the game, it wasn't the Irish style, not just long ball and fighting for every ball."

Kenny is not too fond of talk that veers into moral victory territory and, late on Thursday night, he said they must learn from giving away a second-half lead. He will demand a clinical approach to achieve the season's primary goal - to retain the league.

"To get to three in a row would be an incredible achievement," he said. "We've got minimal turnaround time again. If we're less focused than we need to be, we'll get turned over by Bohemians."

Conceding

Kenny did briefly allow himself to look ahead, conceding that the ambition of making it to the round of 32 in the Europa League could hinge on constructing a clever plan when domestic business draws to a close.

Dundalk still sit second in Group D, five points behind a Zenit side that already have one foot in the next round. They face a daunting task in St Petersburg on Thursday week, just 72 hours before an FAI Cup final with Cork City.

But it's the out-of-season matches with AZ Alkmaar in Tallaght (November 24) and away to Maccabi Tel Aviv (December 8) that could settle the race for second.

"We're a point ahead after the first series of games but we've got to go to Russia and Israel," he said. "We have to plan now once the season finishes what we do. We've come up with a few ideas but we haven't really nailed anything down exactly.

"Maybe we need to go away somewhere and train and get ready, prepare properly."

Kenny doesn't quite subscribe to the theory that Dundalk's opponents thus far haven't taken them seriously, yet he accepts that the surprise element might be gone now.

"I take the point that teams will look at us differently," he said, "But we still have a lot of talent in the team, and good players are getting better I feel. The European games are bringing them on again so I would not be daunted."

Defender Andy Boyle said that Kenny's confidence had driven the group.

"It (qualifying) is something we targeted. When the gaffer said it, we probably thought he was mad," said the centre-half. "That's the gaffer and he made us believe. "

But first, there's tomorrow to think about. The adrenaline levels will be helped by a carnival atmosphere at Oriel Park.

"Sometimes you worry about the highs of the European nights and then going back into venues that are not packed out," said Boyle. "It's difficult to get up.

"But it's a chance to win the league."

Irish Independent

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