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Sunday 4 December 2016

Kenny's relishing a battle of wits

Dundalk v Maccabi Tel Aviv (Live Eir Sport 1, KO 8.05)

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny

Irish ears get used to hearing certain phrases when foreign teams come to our shores to play our football teams. Fighting Spirit and Typical British Style are the words usually used by visitors.

Heck, even the captain of our national team claimed that we have only one way of playing. "We talk about Plan A and Plan B and crap like that, but Ireland has never had a Plan B before," was Robbie Keane's view in 2013.

Talk along those lines really riles up Stephen Kenny, as he prepares his Dundalk side for their first-ever home game in the group stages of a major competition tonight, at home to a Maccabi Tel Aviv outfit which is packed with international-class players, including former Premier League star Yossi Benayoun.

Fifteen years after he first managed a League of Ireland side in Europe Kenny, who really relishes these European battles of the wits, gets emotional when asked to talk about his side's chances in their tussle with the Israeli league leaders.

Each of the clubs from four different nations faced by Dundalk in Europe so far this season (Iceland, Belarus, Poland and Holland) has contained a number of senior internationals but for Dundalk, the closest they get is a call-up for keeper Gary Rogers and a possible, future, summons for Daryl Horgan.

But Kenny despises the idea that Irish teams can only play the Irish way - direct, aggressive, long balls - at a time when his Dundalk side are able to match a classy Dutch side like AZ Alkmaar man for man and pass for pass.

"I would expect tonight that we have to pass the ball really well and people have to express themselves," says Kenny who pits his wits against the former Georgian star Shota Arveladze in the new-look dugouts at Tallaght Stadium tonight.

"Of course there's risks and you open yourself up to give goals away if you're not 100% accurate with your passes across the back four but that's the way I believe we should play.

"I don't buy into the whole concept, the train of thought that is going around at the minute, that many commentators have said that it is in our DNA to play high up the pitch and to play a more direct style, because that suits our psyche, our level of skill - or rather, our supposed lack of it. I just can't agree with that," stresses the Dubliner.

"I cannot tell you how strongly I disagree with that. But that's the narrative. And people believe that.

"And they are conditioned to believe it. And then we go back and blame how kids are coached at U10 level. It is about having the ability to pass the ball, the ability to believe in yourself, to fulfil your potential as players and as a team and seeing where that takes you."

It's a theory which his left back agrees with. "You'd like to think that when we get the ball down and play, this isn't your typical Irish team, there's no hustle and bustle here, we are all good technically, we like to play good football, it's attractive on the eye and hopefully we get a result," says Dubliner Dane Massey, a key figure for Dundalk.

In Maccabi they face a side who are well used to the rigours of high-level club and international football, this a club who had five players named in the Israel senior squad this week.

Yet Dundalk pulled off an astonishing feat by coming from behind to draw away to AZ two weeks ago, finishing the game with 10 men as Stephen O'Donnell was sent off, so he's suspended for tonight, though boss Kenny expects Sean Gannon and John Mountney to recover from knocks.

A draw already on board, Kenny now has a win in sight. "It's about league points and we're aware that a win puts us on four points, that would represent a great start so that's what we're looking at," he says.

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