Friday 27 April 2018

Stephen Kenny teases 'epic' battle between Dundalk and AZ Alkmaar

Stephen Kenny is preparing Dundalk for a clash with AZ Alkmaar
Stephen Kenny is preparing Dundalk for a clash with AZ Alkmaar

Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny is predicting an "epic" battle against AZ Alkmaar which could put the Irish minnows on the brink of a seismic upset in the Europa League.

The County Louth side - the lowest ranked in the tournament - are firmly in contention for a place in the last 32 ahead of their penultimate Group D game on Thursday night.

They are hoping a home crowd in Dublin's Tallaght Stadium, where they have already beaten Maccabi Tel Aviv and only narrowly lost to Zenit St Petersburg, will spur them on to another famous result.

Kenny says, if they can get through to the knockout stages, Dundalk's trajectory will eclipse even that of shock Premier League title winners Leicester, who have now won their Champions League group.

"I think what we are achieving is on a much greater scale," the Lilywhites boss said in a pre-match press conference at Tallaght.

"From our point of view, no one gave us a chance of getting a point in the group.

"We still have a lot to do to get through… but this is a journey where we've come from nowhere and we understand where we have come from - we have nothing.

"We've come from the bottom of our own league to win three in a row and now to be on the verge of qualifying for the last 32.

"We are very determined to achieve that."

Dundalk lie in second place in the pool, level on four points with Maccabi, whom they face in Israel in two weeks' time, and two points clear of AZ.

But numerous injuries are threatening to undermine Dundalk's progress. The Irish champions' punishing 50-match season has taken its toll on the players.

It has made Kenny's job all the more difficult as he fights to man-manage each player individually on whether they need rest, rehabilitation or more training.

Current concerns include midfielders Ronan Finn and Chris Shields, who have been dogged by persistent groin injuries.

Another midfielder Stephen O'Donnell has been hit with hamstring and calf injuries.

Winger Darren Meenan, who signed for Shamrock Rovers during the week, will not be in the squad.

On the plus side, defender Dane Massey and midfielder Robbie Benson have both recovered and look fit for the crunch tie.

"We are a team that doesn't get muscle injuries, or very few," said Kenny.

"To get as many as we have is a result of the sheer volume of games in such short proximity. Something had to give in that regard.

"The players are human, even though they have performed heroically in that period."

They will need to draw on all their heroic strengths once again in Tallaght against a tall and powerful AZ side, expected to play four forwards.

"I think it is going to be an epic game tomorrow night," Kenny said.

"We will have a big test, but I believe in the players that we have got. There is tremendous spirit in the team and a fair degree of technical ability as well."

He added: "A draw could very well be a very good result for us. That is what the maths tells us, depending on the results elsewhere.

"But we will go to try and win the game as we do, but a draw could be a very good result."

Press Association

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