Thursday 22 March 2018

No time for Dundalk to bask in the glory

Champions League progression sets new tests for club as big decisions loom

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny celebrates with Robbie Benson. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny celebrates with Robbie Benson. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

When Robbie Benson scored the insurance goal that completed Dundalk's dismantling of BATE Borisov, Stephen Kenny just wanted time to freeze so he could savour the moment.

"The ecstasy was special," admitted the proud manager. "You could see the joy and you don't always get that in life in any form so to be part of that is amazing."

As the scale of their achievement sunk in, a breather to take stock of what it all means would have been welcomed by all involved with the small border club that made headlines around Europe by knocking out the group stage regulars.

That option is not available, however. Kenny's squad were back in the gym and in recovery mode yesterday with Friday's league date with Galway next on the agenda. Retaining their title is essential if they are to build on whatever else happens in their European adventure.


Meanwhile, the board and officials were plunged headlong into logistical ruminations about the venue for their final Champions League play-off and the group stage football that will follow afterwards regardless of the outcome.

That means their season will be prolonged until December, which leaves work to do as playing contracts are technically due to expire in November.

It's just one of the complications, yet they are welcome headaches given the new-found riches that have come in tandem with the exploits of Kenny's stars. After all, it's only four years since they were battling issues of survival on almost a daily basis.

They know that a minimum figure in the region of €6m will eventually come their way although the reality is that short-term loans will have to be sought to meet costs in the short term. That total is calculated on the basis that they lose their final Champions League play-off and drop into the Europa League group stages, a negative mindset that Kenny will refuse to adopt.

Read more: 'BATE win is stuff that dreams are made of' - O'Donnell

He says that the finances have not cropped up in the dressing room discussion. It is understood that a delegation of players did meet officials recently to amicably thrash out a bonus structure, so they will receive a healthy pay-out compared to their regular income. In an environment where they go unpaid through the winter, it all counts.

"The money is a fraction of what it was ten years ago in the league," said Kenny, as he considered the implications of forthcoming commitments.

"They sacrifice so much, the players. We are different from other clubs. You can't work and play for me but we have players who do part-time jobs. David McMillan does a few hours as an architect.

"All of our staff here, it may not suit them to go full-time. I don't know the figures involved. The next round, if we get through that, the figures will multiply. I need to have solicitors' meetings at some stage but at the moment I am just focusing on the football.

"I don't think anyone has mentioned money in the group. You might find that hard to believe, but it's been about the sacrifices they have made in their career, the sacrifices that the parents have made and their family members. A few of them have small children and it's creating huge memories. I think you can't measure that.

"All the players are of good character, they are really dedicated and it's great when people, who dedicate so much in their lives to something get their rewards. For them, it's a scrap at Christmas to pay for it with this game in Ireland. It's not easy at all."

The run-up to the end of the year will be different this time around. Kenny is still pained by the fact that the famous night had to take place away from Oriel Park and sorting out the legal issue that is holding up proper investment on the dated facilities should be at the top of the agenda going forward.

"When you come back next year and nothing has improved, that can demoralise you," he admitted.

Read more: Celtic 'glamour' has no appeal for Dundalk boss Kenny

They have now succeeded playing themselves into a stage of the competition that puts all but two grounds out of the equation.

If they advance to the Champions League proper, they will have to relocate to the Aviva Stadium.

If they drop into the Europa League, then there is a possibility that Tallaght Stadium can be brought up to standard but it would require investment and co-operation with the owners, the South Dublin County Council.

After meetings with UEFA, the delegate from the governing body toured the stadium with representatives from RTE, TV3 and Eir to point out areas that require improvement.


They fall under headings such as media seating, the size of the dugouts and floodlights that need work to be compatible with HD television.

With the immediacy of the play-off round looming, the main point is the necessity of an 8,000-capacity stadium which means installing a temporary stand with foundations that meet the criteria.

There are doubts about the ability to get the relevant work on Tallaght done within the month which means that the Aviva would host the play-off.

Kenny would fancy that. "It's where we won the FAI Cup and that would not faze us," he said. "I am not in charge of the logistics and the economics of the situation."

What he does control is the squad that have played their way into the spotlight.

"It's always been my ambition to qualify for the group stages of European competitions," he said. "But I don't want to say too much because we are in the Champions League and want to go for that and be focused on it."

Before that, there's Galway. The bread and butter will taste better this week.

Irish Independent

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