Saturday 23 March 2019

'Game of our lives' - Stephen Kenny urges his players to raise bar again to take down Rosenborg

 

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny says his side should not be underestimated. Photo: Sportsfile
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny says his side should not be underestimated. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It would take a leap to declare that tensions are running high in Trondheim but that could all change by this evening. That is Dundalk's plan anyway.

Stephen Kenny says it would be a 'catastrophe' if Rosenborg are knocked out of the Champions League by an Irish side, language which did not please his opposite number Kare Ingebrigtsen.

"There are no catastrophes in football," he replied. "There are in other places but no. Of course, everybody dreams to play in the Champions League but we know it's really difficult for a Norwegian team to get through."

It is far more difficult for a League of Ireland operation, of course, and coming so close 12 months ago has not dramatically altered the perception of Dundalk.

They were recognised as one of the toughest options on the unseeded side of the draw, but operations like Rosenborg still expect to pass the test. By visiting Oriel Park last week, they got to see how far Dundalk have to travel to meet off-the-pitch standards.

Dilapidated

One look at the poky dressing rooms led the Eliteserien leaders to conclude they would be better off changing in their hotel in Drogheda and getting on the team coach instead of doing all of that at the dilapidated venue.

The Norwegians didn't hang around afterwards either, and their sporting director, the former Liverpool defender Stig Inge Bjornebye, succeeded in rubbing a few Dundalk officials up the wrong way at a function by suggesting he anticipated Rosenborg would score and be in control inside 20 minutes.

That prediction was wrong - it was Dundalk who assumed that position - and the Rosenborg camp have been respectful in front of the microphones since then even though their confidence is thinly concealed. They are used to efficiently swatting away sides at the Lerkendal Stadium so 1-1 was a satisfactory result for them in the away leg.

And when the Dundalk team landed in their dressing room ahead of training last night, they were greeted by a tactics board with the words 'Rosenborg 3 Dundalk 0' scribbled on it in black marker. That mischief should work its way into Kenny's team talk.

Rosenborg, meanwhile, are focusing very much on the lessons of the opening exchanges.

"It surprised me a little bit that we weren't capable of standing up to the pressure in the first 20 minutes," admitted Rosenborg captain Mike Jensen. "But after we scored, we could drop a little low and control the game defensively a little bit better.

"I think we're going to be offensive here. I'm not concerned. We don't care if they score one goal if we score three. I'm sure we can go through anyway because we can score more goals."

Ingebrigtsen was on message too. "I think we have to go out and be in charge for the first 20," he stressed.

The ex-Manchester City player is aware of Dundalk's strengths and he confirmed yesterday that a move for first leg goalscorer David McMillan was considered last winter. Kenny discussed it too, stating that finances were discussed and the Irish side knew they couldn't match any Rosenborg offer.

But they had other irons in the fire and the highest-profile one came off when Nicklas Bendtner was snared from Nottingham Forest. "His name came up but we found Nicklas so we were happy," grinned Ingebrigtsen.

"He (McMillan) is a good striker, we definitely looked at him. He's definitely a good player who can play out of Ireland if he wants to."

That tale illustrates how the 2016 run was a shop window opportunity. The hangover from it and the loss of key players - partially on account of their increased profile - was the cost of the exertions.

Earlier in the season, there was even a point where Dundalk players were fatigued by queries asking them to reflect on it. Now that they are back at this point of the year, however, the tales from the memory bank are a source for inspiration.

It's what makes them believe that a famous victory to set up a date with Celtic is attainable. With Kenny, the glass will always be half-full.

"We should have won the game last week," he said. "We were the better team on the day. We know Rosenborg will be different opposition at home but we're capable of stepping up again.

"These players can believe in themselves. Some of our players in the midfield area like Robbie Benson and Patrick McEleney are really in their prime. We must not underestimate the talent we have in our team."

McMillan was praised too, a late bloomer who has strengthened all parts of his game since relocating in 2014. Stephen O'Donnell is another vital cog in the wheel and a full week's training has put him in contention to start ahead of Chris Shields.

The other change for the side is likely to be at centre-half with Niclas Vemmelund a major doubt and Paddy Barrett in line to come in although Kenny has talked up Sean Hoare in the build-up.

"We're going to have to play the game of our lives and put in an extraordinary performance," Kenny declared. "But it's not beyond us."

Expect a lively one.

Rosenborg v Dundalk,

Live, RTE2, 6.15

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