| 8.4°C Dublin

Cup final fitness concerns will impact Dundalk's strategy for Molde


Dundalk coach Shane Keegan says the atmosphere in the camp has been ‘brilliant’ this week. Photo: Sportsfile

Dundalk coach Shane Keegan says the atmosphere in the camp has been ‘brilliant’ this week. Photo: Sportsfile

Dundalk coach Shane Keegan says the atmosphere in the camp has been ‘brilliant’ this week. Photo: Sportsfile

It's small consolation to Dundalk that they are not the only side still searching for their first Europa League points with two games remaining.

Bigger and better sides have also suffered four defeats from four at this stage of the competition. Rijeka, Gent, Ludogorets and their old foes Qarabag are in the same boat. Celtic, CSKA Sofia and Omonia Nicosia have a solitary point to show for their efforts.

In reality, tonight's showdown with Molde in Norway offers their best chance to avoid the clean sweep of defeats given that under-fire Mikel Arteta will be anxious to avoid embarrassment in Dublin next week, much as Arsenal have already qualified.

Dundalk coach Shane Keegan has asserted that there have been positives from this experience, stressing that they have taken heart from the fact they genuinely competed in both games with Rapid Vienna and the initial meeting with Molde, where a half-time lead was turned into a defeat.

"Some teams have got absolutely tanked," says Keegan. "We were probably the biggest minnows in the whole group stages. The plus and the minus is that we have managed to go toe to toe in the other three games aside from Arsenal, but key moments have gone against us."

Given the somewhat chaotic nature of their season, they've acquitted themselves reasonably well, but there's personal pride invested in getting something on the board and that's why the visitors won't allow Sunday's FAI Cup final with Shamrock Rovers to be too much of a distraction.

Keegan confirmed yesterday that there is a rough game-plan in mind to make changes at some stage in the second half with energy levels for Rovers in mind, but his view is that they will largely be like-for-like switches that showcase their squad depth.

"It's going to be a balancing act," he conceded. "But I don't think we will be weakening our side."

He will have more mid-game responsibility than usual given that manager Filippo Giovagnoli will be watching from the stands, unable to interact with the group from the moment they reach the stadium until an hour after the final whistle.

The League of Ireland champions have been hit with a €50,000 fine after UEFA ruled that the Italian was guilty of 'shadow coaching' by having a prominent involvement in their early group games despite not having a Pro Licence.

Keegan has the credentials and was listed on the teamsheet but UEFA could see that Giovagnoli was front and centre, and chose to act.

"There must be rules and regulations into how much you can do on the sidelines if you don't have one (a licence) and they felt it overstepped the mark," said Keegan.

Giovagnoli will be picking the team as usual, and tends to leave the players guessing until the last minute.

That's fitting in the context of uncertainty around futures with a sizeable chunk of the travelling party out of contract and the club only in negotiations with selected members of that group.

In reality, those issues will largely have to be parked until the next week is out of the way, although there is alarm around Dundalk that their owners have left it so late with key players who have offers elsewhere.

Keegan insists it hasn't impacted on morale.

"The atmosphere has been brilliant," he said. "I don't think it will have any bearing on anything. What happens on that side of things will take care of itself."

  • Molde v Dundalk, Live, Virgin Media Two, 8.0

Irish Independent