Sunday 9 December 2018

Kenny: We don't want Celtic in Euro draw

Dundalk boss hoping for lower-seeded opponent as he eyes progression rather than glamour tie

Goals rather than glamour will be on Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny's mind when the draws for the opening rounds of the UEFA Champions League take place today
Goals rather than glamour will be on Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny's mind when the draws for the opening rounds of the UEFA Champions League take place today

John Fallon

Goals rather than glamour will be on Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny's mind when the draws for the opening rounds of the UEFA Champions League take place today (11am, Irish time).

Kenny's league champions will enter at the second qualifying round stage and their position as an unseeded team in the draw leaves open the possibility of being paired with former victors Celtic.

For all the profile a meeting with the Scottish champions would bring, and a guaranteed sold-out Oriel Park, there are evidently easier options to negotiate on the other side of the draw.

Steaua Bucharest possess the highest co-efficient of the top seeds, followed by Celtic. Then come a clutch of teams already familiar with success on the European stage, including Apoel, Bate Borisov, Ludogrets, Dynamo Zagreb, Maribor, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Partizan Belgrade, Lech Poznan and Malmo.

Preferable for Dundalk would be to draw one of Qarabag, HJK Helsinki, Molde, Midtjylland, Videoton or KF Skenderbeu.

Progression to the third qualifying round would not alone constitute a breakthrough for Irish football but, given the enhanced prize-money available, offer the Lilywhites a revenue stream to at least secure them financially in the medium term.

Already, the Louth club are guaranteed to bank €175,000 more than last year's sole Irish participants in the competition, St Patrick's Athletic.

Yet, that figure of €550,000 will be dwarfed should they emerge from the two-leg tie next month.


That's because not alone would the figure double but the safety net of dropping into the Europa League fourth round enters the equation for the teams unsuccessful in reaching the Champions League play-off stages.

Kenny has amassed plenty of European experience during his tenure, with the latest of his 26 games producing a memorable 2-1 victory away to Hajduk Split 11 months ago.

Losing the first leg at home a week earlier ultimately prevented Dundalk's Europa League journey continuing but that squad, minus only striker Pat Hoban, are a year the wiser and better-equipped for the step-up from domestic level.

It's why the lure of a bumper pairing against Celtic today doesn't appeal to Kenny, his gaze instead switching to the winnable propositions in the draw.

"Our job is to get through this round, so of course we'd like to get one of the lower-seeded teams," said the Dubliner.

"Some of the sides we could face have the experience of Champions League group stages behind them, which undoubtedly gives them an advantage.

"As for Celtic, well that could be a distraction. There might be glamour attached to that tie but my only priority is to win the tie.

"We showed by winning three of our four games in Europe last season that the team can perform at that level.

"They have come a long way from the bottom of the league two years ago. Now there's a massive incentive there.

"It will be tough, whichever team we are drawn against, but getting past one round in the Champions League guarantees us a minimum of six more matches because of the Europa League part."

Despite the current League of Ireland summer break, Kenny had his players back training last Thursday and immersed in an intensive camp over the weekend in Malahide.

Today will also see Ireland's four Europa League qualifiers discover their opposition in the first round.

FAI Cup winners St Pat's and Shamrock Rovers, despite not being involved in Europe for the past two seasons, will be seeded but Cork City and UEFA Fair Play winners UCD will not.

West Ham and Aberdeen are among the possible pairings for the unseeded teams, while the Saints and Rovers will be confident of passing whatever tests are handed to them from a pot that features potential challenges more of a logistical than football nature.

Like Dundalk, the financial stakes are higher in this first season of a new three-year cycle. A safe passage through the opening round nets teams €410,000 each compared to the €250,000 paid in 2014.

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