Rosenborg test demands a renewal of Dundalk spirit
When a young Stephen Kenny visited Trondheim in 2003, he reckoned the local passion for football was similar to New Zealand's relationship with rugby.
The home of Rosenborg, the dominant force in Norwegian football, was a city with an urban population that only just exceeded 100,000. However, they were regularly drawing crowds of 20,000 and qualifying for the group stages of the Champions League.
They were too strong for Kenny's Bohemians in 2003, eventually enjoying a 5-0 aggregate win after the Gypsies went for broke following a narrow home defeat in Dublin.
Their name entered the Irish football lexicon as the definition of an aspiration. Would an Irish club need to 'do a Rosenborg' to succeed on the European stage? That meant one outfit excelling with the rest left trailing.
The term even got a few airings last year as Dundalk's €6.6m European run threatened to propel them into another stratosphere.
It's a slightly dated term now, as Rosenborg's run of 13 straight league wins ended in 2004. The pack caught up and the wealth has been spread. After a spell in the doldrums by their standards, they have won the last two titles - to make it four from the last 10 - and their last foray into the Champions League group stages came in 2007.
Still, they've reached the Europa League equivalent three times in the intervening period and operate in a structure that is miles above anything on offer in the League of Ireland. They also still have a sizeable budget.
Former Arsenal and Juventus striker Nicklas Bendtner is the highest profile name on their books, with the Danish striker signing from Nottingham Forest earlier this year.
Therefore, Rosenborg will be clear favourites when they meet Kenny's Dundalk in the second qualifying round of this year's Champions League.
In Norway, local media have described Dundalk as one of the toughest options available to Rosenborg, with their 2016 exploits earning respect.
However, a simple glance at the current table - which shows they are 18 points behind a rampant Cork - illustrates the impact that the loss of key men Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle and Ronan Finn has had on the Louthmen.
With no real structure behind the first team, their focus is on rebuilding, rather than 'doing a Rosenborg'.
However, the confidence of recent European runs has given Kenny hope that the attractive tie will galvanise his players and the wider community, with the first leg provisionally pencilled in for Wednesday, July 12, in Oriel Park with the return a week later.
"I think the players are very excited by the prospect of playing in Europe," said Kenny. "Last season was the pinnacle of their careers for a lot of them and they want to recreate it.
"This is a period where everyone in the town should get behind the club again to help the team beat another high-ranked side and surprise Europe."
He retains strong memories of 2003. "I can only compare it to rugby in New Zealand, for such a small place to have that strength. They were getting over 20,000 every week in a modern stadium with brilliant community and commercial activity that we could learn a lot from.
"We worked hard in our pre-season break," continued the Dundalk boss, whose side thrashed Drogheda 6-0 last Friday.
"From our point of view it's a tough draw, but from their point of view they would feel that it's an equally tough draw."
The frustration for Kenny is that another point in last year's Europa League group stages would have put Dundalk in the seeded half.
Rosenborg are top of their league with 25 points from 13 games in a congested table. They did not impress in a weekend loss to mid-table Haugesund, which illustrated their vulnerabilities.
It could have been worse for Dundalk, with a rematch with Legia Warsaw or a meeting with Celtic two of the other options.
Celtic will take on Linfield if the Northern Ireland champions beat San Marino's La Fiorita in the first round.
Both clubs are content to play in Belfast on July 11, but the PSNI could have the final say amid reservations about the security implications in what is already a busy week.
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