Dundalk dare to believe they can make more waves in Europe
Experienced Rosenborg represent huge test for Stephen Kenny’s team
Stephen Kenny: “We’ve faced some great European clubs so that’s not really anything new to us . . . We trust ourselves, trust the players.” Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
When it comes to Europe, he has tended to exceed expectations but perhaps a part of his success involves dampening them beforehand and the visitors, he has read somewhere, have made the group stages of one European competition or other in 15 of the last 22 seasons.
“It’s an incredible record,” he says before adding with an exasperated laugh. “We’ve only been in it once and people are expecting us to get back in.”
The extent to which the home side’s fans really expect his side to beat one that includes so many internationals is debatable but last year’s heroics have given them license to dream again while a significant recent improvement in form has provided some basis for believing the players might just might be capable of delivering for a second successive season.
The importance of it all, Kenny suggests, is as much about the kudos as the cash with the manager suggesting it is only when a team from the league is going well in Europe that the latent levels of support and interest really become apparent.
Asked whether that assessment ties in with his experience, Chris Shields grins suddenly and says he only came to appreciate just how many people last year’s run had registered with when “yer man who works in the Chinese, my local in Clondalkin, said ‘well done on the European campaign’”.
Their wider fame will be fleeting, the players all know, if losing to Rosenborg leaves people with the sense that it is back to business as usual.
Kenny insists, though, that despite the scale of challenge, last year’s success can serve as the foundation on which his players can build something great again.
“Listen,” he says, “they’re a very good team; they’ve a very experienced group of players. We respect that. We respect that their expectations are to get through to the group stage but from our point of view, that’s nothing new to us.
“We’ve faced some great European clubs so that’s not really anything new to us. It doesn’t mean we feel we don’t have a chance. We trust ourselves, trust the players.”
Dundalk’s outstanding success last season was that they posed genuine problems for almost every team they played and always aspired to dominating games even if they did not always succeed.
Even when they did not play well it seemed as though they might have another goal in them. They were made to pay, though, for the defensive mistakes they made and Kenny knows they will have to be a little stronger, both mentally and physically, this time out.
“They are a tall team,” he says, “[Tore] Reginiussen and [Yohan Laedre] Bjordal, the centre backs obviously [Matthias] Vilhjalmsson’s very strong in the air and then there’s [Nicklas] Bendtner who I think is 6ft 4in so they’ve got a lot of height in the team when it comes to set plays. We’re not the tallest of teams so we have a bit of work to do in that regard; it will be an important part of the game for us.”
Even from play, though, the visitors will be quite the handful. Five points clear at the top of the Norwegian league table and still firmly on course for a third straight title, Rosenborg are not where they are just because they convert a lot of corners.
They arrive off the back of a 5-1 win and Kenny is impressed that they are still employing much the same system they did more than a decade ago when they easily beat his Bohemians side. They were Champions League group stage regulars back then but have not made to the club game’s top table in a decade.
In 2003, the Dublin club’s downfall was a goal in the first leg that resulted from a well rehearsed pattern of play around their goalmouth. Kenny had warned his defence about it beforehand, he recently recalled but, he said yesterday: “even though you know what’s coming, it’s difficult to stop”.
Dundalk are generally regarded as a better side than that Bohemians one but containing opponents that coach Kåre Ingebrigtsen insists have come here with the intention of scoring an away goal or two while trying to establish an advantage of their own to bring to Trondheim next week still represents quite a challenge.
Kenny insists he would not take a 0-0 draw and it is not his way either but nobody will need to remind him that he could most definitely do worse.