Sunday 16 December 2018

Stephen Kenny calling for cool heads in heat of Cyprus battle

Stephen Kenny has some words of advice for Patrick Hoban during training. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Kenny has some words of advice for Patrick Hoban during training. Photo: Sportsfile

Daniel McDonnell in Larnaca

Luxembourg, Croatia, Belarus, Iceland, Poland, Holland, Russia, Israel, Norway, Estonia.

Since taking over as manager late in 2012, Stephen Kenny has quite literally made sure that Dundalk are a club going places.

Cyprus is the latest stop and, while Dundalk have played better sides than AEK Larnaca during Kenny's tenure, and lined out in bigger arenas, a successful visit would deliver satisfaction to rival any other sojourn.

That's partly because Larnaca are a streetwise and talented side with a formidable home record, and partly because Dundalk will have to play in temperatures that will very much take them out of their comfort zone.

They trained in the AEK Arena at 6.30pm local time (4.30pm Irish time) last night, to mirror the kick-off in the decider of this evenly poised Europa League second-round qualifying tie.

It was 31 degrees as Kenny put his side through their paces; if it's 32 degrees or warmer 90 minutes before kick-off then UEFA make water breaks mandatory.

Conditions

That said, a couple of Dundalk players did report after the session that they were fearing the conditions would be worse.

Certainly, the weather will challenge the Irish side, but Kenny has stressed that he will not allow his group to become 'preoccupied' as they go in search of a triumph that would bring the value of this year's European run to €780,000 and set up a trip to Austria to face Sturm Graz next Thursday.

Confidence levels are high. The manager is proud that his team have scored in every destination they have visited on their European travels and an away goal tonight would put them in a very strong position following the scoreless draw seven days ago.

Granted, there's a fault that could be poked in his stat as it would suggest Dundalk have a perfect record for hitting the target on their travels.

They visited Belarus twice and fired a blank on their return to BATE Borisov's base in 2016, a game where they were lucky to escape on the end of a 1-0 defeat. They hammered BATE in the return and the rest is history.

That was the one tie where Dundalk's away performance was several levels below their home showing.

In the majority of cases, they have fared better on their travels and that's what enthuses the visiting boss.

Some local commentators in Larnaca have concluded that the crisp playing surface at the AEK Arena, with wider dimensions than Oriel Park, will be a disadvantage to the visitors.

Kenny is hoping they might receive an unpleasant surprise.

"There will be more space out here than there was in the home game, where space was at a premium," said Kenny. "The temperature and the dimensions dictate there will be a bit more space."

He respects Larnaca's ability in the centre of the park and their ball-retention skills will give them a further advantage in the conditions, although Dundalk feel they can match them.

Larnaca have a heavy Spanish influence in the dugout as well as on the pitch, and veteran playmaker Jorge Larena will keep things ticking over.

The 36-year-old has a good pedigree, having played for Atletico Madrid, Celta and Las Palmas in his youth before leaving the Spanish second tier for Cyprus, and that's a typical career path for a good number of Andoni Iraola's squad.

However, Kenny feels that an encounter with continental qualities could bring the best out of some of his players.

Balanced

"They have a very good midfield, a well balanced midfield, but it will give people like Jamie McGrath much more room than he had last week.

"They set up in Dundalk to negate that space between midfield and attack. Someone like Jamie could flourish here," he stressed.

AEK have pinpointed Michael Duffy as Dundalk's main danger man, however, and they were guilty of showing the Derry lad onto his favoured right foot on several occasions.

If Dundalk have to absorb pressure, he will relish the opportunity to break into space. Dylan Connolly is likely to figure on the other wing, although Kenny must battle with the temptation to bring Patrick McEleney into the centre and send McGrath to the right.

His main decision revolves around the fitness of right-full Sean Gannon, who kicked off training away from the group and has work to do to show he's ready. Should he make it, Sean Hoare would switch to centre half and Daniel Cleary would be vulnerable.

This year is the ex-Liverpool defender's first taste of European football and he spoke yesterday about team-mates sharing their good memories.

This is the perfect opportunity to make some new ones.

  • AEK Larnaca v Dundalk, Live, EirSport 1, 4.30

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