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Thursday 23 February 2017

McMILLAN AIMING TO KEEP EURO RUN ALIVE

Imminent departures a headache for Kenny

Dundalk players and boss Stephen Kenny are pictured in training at the Netanya Stadium in Israel ahead of
tonight’s Europa League clash with Maccabi Tel Aviv
Dundalk players and boss Stephen Kenny are pictured in training at the Netanya Stadium in Israel ahead of tonight’s Europa League clash with Maccabi Tel Aviv

It's the anecdotes from airports that have made David McMillan realise the impact of Dundalk's European adventure.

Last year, they would have slipped through unnoticed. But 2016 has made the strangers stand out from the crowd.

They were in Heathrow three weeks ago, on the way back from a friendly with Brentford, when that message hit home.

"We were just walking through wasting time and we ended up in the Rolex shop," explains the Dubliner. "And someone comes up and says 'Jesus, you boys must be making some money.'

"So that wouldn't have happened before," smiles McMillan, who confirms that no player made a purchase. "Even the other day in Dublin Airport, a Manchester United fan was there and he was saying, 'Oh, you're Dundalk, you've been unbelievable in the Europa League'

PREPARATIONS

"He wouldn't have had a clue who we were a few weeks ago. It's great that the profile is there. If we can make it happen more regularly, then all the better."

That is a big if, though, and that has been brought home to Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny in the preparations for tonight's showdown with Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The League of Ireland champions still have a live chance of qualifying for the Europa League round of 32.

If they win in Maccabi's temporary Netanya base - they are playing in the coastal holiday town 30km away because the Tel Aviv stadium is being renovated - then Dundalk will go through if AZ Alkmaar draw with group winners Zenit St Petersburg in Holland.

If Alkmaar lose that game, then a score draw will put the Louthmen through.

However, Kenny is coming to terms with the fact that he will have to plan without Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan in that eventuality. Boyle is bound for Preston and Horgan could follow him there and dealing with the imminent break-up of a successful formula has deflated the manager as he would like another crack at the Champions League next term.

"I won't use the word sadness because that's not the right word," said Kenny. "It's a little bit frustrating but that's the way it is.

"It's been a strange sort of build-up - it's a little bit unsettling with a lot of players out of contract and trying to deal with that.

"It's an unusual situation to say the least, it's been unsettling for players as well. But we are very focused, we understand how far we've come and the possibility still exists that we could be in this competition again in February."

McMillan is still in negotiations over his own future yet can understand the interest in his colleagues. "I'm sure that is bittersweet for Stephen," says the striker who is set for a recall ahead of Ciaran Kilduff.

"He doesn't want to lose the guys but recognises that they've given so much for the cause, they have won three titles with him and cup finals and the achievements this year.

PROLONG

"It's obviously bittersweet for him but it's only due to our success that it might happen."

Maccabi are dealing with a different kind of uncertainty as boss Shota Arveladze is fighting to save his job after four games without a goal. A positive result for Dundalk will push him out the exit door but it still might not be enough to prolong their own journey.

For some key men, this will be the end no matter whatever happens.

"This is an unbelievable opportunity," said McMillan. "Because it might never come again in my career."

Maccabi Tel Aviv v Dundalk (live EIR SPORT 1/BT SPORT EUROPE, KO 6.0)

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