Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk undaunted by Maccabi challenge

Expects Lilywhites to ask serious questions of Israeli side

Five years to the day after Shamrock Rovers went to White Hart Lane and threatened, ever so briefly, to cause a minor Europa League sensation, Dundalk are around at the Dublin club's place tonight aiming to achieve something rather more substantial.

Stephen Kenny has said his side is in this competition not just to participate or cause the odd upset but to qualify and tall as that order might look now, it will all the more daunting if Maccabi Tel Aviv are not beaten in Tallaght this evening.

The venue, he says, is not an issue – although he insists that he would have preferred to having been playing at Lansdowne Road – and neither, he maintains, is the fact that the opposition arrive with a squad that routinely includes a string of senior internationals; five alone from the Israeli squad named for the forthcoming qualifiers along with others from the likes of Bosnia, Serbia and Nigeria.

Better player

“It doesn’t really intimidate in the slightest,” he says, “whether a player is an international or not. It doesn’t concern me.

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“I look at what I see and make a judgement. Whether he has 50 caps or none, in my eyes, it doesn’t make him a better player. Maccabi have some high-profile players but maybe some of their lesser known players are the better ones; they are more of a threat to us. That’s the nature of football.”

Skipper, Stephen O’Donnell, will be missing due to suspension but not even that, it seems, can shake Kenny’s conviction that his team really can make a significant mark on this competition in the weeks ahead. Dundalk’s rivals, he acknowledges readily enough however, are unlikely to see things that way.

“I think some of the teams will feel that if they want to progress they might want to take six points off of us,” he says.

“That’s only natural because we’ve the lowest co-efficient in the whole competition so I don’t think it will be a traditional knockout match where they come away from home, keep it tight and hit you on the counterattack.”

They should certainly be capable of more than that although they might be just a little anxious after losing their opening group game to Zenit Saint Petersburg having led 3-0 with 15 minutes remaining. Since then, they have won three on the trot back in their own league, scoring 11 times without reply, and Tal Ben Chaim’s two goals against Hapoel over the weekend has underlined the threat that he can pose, regardless of how the team’s Georgian coach Shota Arveladze opts to approach things.

Late collapse

Maccabi will be without first choice right back

Eli Dasa

, whose sending off two weeks ago led to Zenit’s first goal and contributed to the late collapse, or another of his Israeli internationals, midfielder

Avi Rikan

, who is injured. Kenny will hope their absence weakens the visitors but the key to victory, he believes, lies in the strength of his own side.

After the draw in Alkmaar and, before that, the beating of BATE here, it is not hard to see why but even he cautions against getting carried away.

“It would be foolish to suddenly think we’ve arrived,” he says. “We can’t really think like that. Apart from the players’ skill levels which have been really exceptional, we’ve got the results and the games have been as close as they have been because they’ve given absolutely everything of themselves. The minute we do anything less than that, though, we’ll be punished.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times