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Tuesday 27 September 2016

Fixture woe for Dundalk

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny speaks to Robbie Benson during the 1-1 draw with Legia Warsaw last Tuesday night. Pic: Sportsfile
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny speaks to Robbie Benson during the 1-1 draw with Legia Warsaw last Tuesday night. Pic: Sportsfile

One of Dundalk's opponents in the group stages of the Europa League have already made clear their feelings on whether the League of Ireland side belong in the competition by tweeting an image of a Homer Simpson hold up a leprechaun from their official Twitter account just after the draw was made.

Whether Zenit St Petersburg may come to regret that 'joke' - the tweet was soon deleted but the fact that it came from their official account can't be forgotten - remains to be seen, and boss Stephen Kenny is adamant that his side are anything but a joke.

"I think we have shown in the games against BATE and Legia Warsaw that if we play to our full potential we are equals," he says.

"Now, I think the accumulation of points would be our priority. There may be people who might view this as unrealistic, looking at the size of Zenit and their resources, and the fact that they have won this competition. But we have to prepare accordingly and try to do our best in these games."

But there's no doubt that Dundalk have not been given an ideal draw by Uefa for the group stages, which begin in three weeks and run until December.

And the Oriel Park club, who have confirmed that they will play their three home matches against Zenit St Petersburg, AZ Alkmaar and Maccabi Tel Aviv in the competition at Tallaght Stadium, have already warned that they will need assistance from the FAI and rival clubs to deal with the logistics of a fixture backlog which forces them to play 17 games in 62 days.

The FAI Cup final date may need to be changed, while Cork City have got a postponement of next week's meeting with Dundalk in the league as Cork have two players on international duty with Ireland's U21 side, all adding to the problems, and Kenny says his side need understanding.

"There is the possibility that we could be forced to play league matches a couple of days before the Europa League games.

"That would completely diminish any chance we have of getting results in Europe. It all depends on our level of preparation. If our level of preparation is adequate for the Europa League games, we have a chance of accumulating points, and we are well aware that two teams qualify from the group," says Kenny.

"Our secretary says we might have to play league games on a Monday before a Thursday match. I just think that would be farcical if that's the case, we'd be shooting ourselves in the foot. If we have to do that, we are giving ourselves no chance. I'm not sure what the solution is in relation to that at the moment. We need some creative thinking and we need people to be creative in the way they plan the fixtures."

As they watched the draw unfold from Monaco yesterday, Dundalk fans and players were not sure what to wish for. But no one prayed for the draw they got: three very tricky opponents, two of them in locations which pose logistical and security problems (Israel and Russia) and no glamour tie, and in playing Zenit St Petersburg, they face the highest-ranked side in the Europa League. "These are great football matches against teams with great pedigrees at home and in Europe," says Kenny.

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