herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

'We can catch Dutch cold'

Dundalk midfielder Ronan Finn insists his side can cause another Europa League upset against Dutch side AZ Alkmaar at Tallaght Stadium tomorrow night.
Dundalk midfielder Ronan Finn insists his side can cause another Europa League upset against Dutch side AZ Alkmaar at Tallaght Stadium tomorrow night.

Stephen Kenny has been telling his Dundalk players their next tests in the Europa League are the two biggest games in the history of Irish club football.

But tomorrow's group game between Dundalk and AZ Alkmaar in Dublin (8.05, Live eir sport1/BT Sport3)- the fixture at Tallaght Stadium is already sold out - is a pretty big night for Dutch football too, or at least the Dutch visitors to Ireland this week.

AZ come to Dublin bottom of Group D with two points from four games and even a draw away to Dundalk would end their interest in Europe for the season, poor form for a club who have enough clout - and finance - to have hired people such as Louis van Gaal, Ronald Koeman and Marco Van Basten as manager in recent times.

The last Dutch side to play in Ireland in European competition, NEC Nijmegen, went home with a 1-0 loss to mull over when Kevin Doyle scored the winner for Cork City (InterToto Cup 2004) and while that defeat didn't immediately cost coach Johann Neeskens his job, the European flop against an Irish side contributed to his sacking a few months later.

So Kenny's side, aware that a win would push them very close to the last 32, have prepared themselves for the prospect of a tough night.

"AZ will come here looking to win the game, they'd see themselves as favourites for the tie," midfielder Ronan Finn told The Herald, Finn hoping to recover from a groin injury in time to feature.

"AZ are a good team and we can't get away from that. I don't know if people see us as favourites as we're at home and we have taken a result from them in Holland. They are a massive club compared to where we are as a club, in the UEFA rankings there's a big gap between the two of us.

"It will be a great occasion and there is a major carrot there for us, who knows if this will ever come around again? Stephen has been drilling into our heads that these are two of the biggest games in Irish football history and we need to realise that, but at the same time we have to relax and play our game.

Respectful

"We have to play on the edge, being respectful of our opponents and knowing how good they are as if you start to take your eye off that and begin to think you're better than you are you could be in trouble.

"If we can pick them off we will. When we played in Holland they did allow us to play, there was nothing in it in the first half, in the second half they came out more, got a goal and we had a man sent off. They owned the ball for half an hour but we got a late equaliser.

"We have nothing to fear. But we have to be aware that they are a massive threat and if we make a mistake they can cut us open."

For Finn and his team-mates, tomorrow night is a return to competitive action for the first time since the FAI Cup final defeat.

The players have bumps and bruises and have seen rival LOI players enjoy their post-season holidays in far-off flesh pots but Finn, eager to play through the pain, says Tallaght Stadium is the only place to be.

"Lads who aren't involved in European football would be slightly jealous," says Finn.

"We are competing at a high level and I think any player in the league would swap places with us, there will be plenty of time for holidays when your career is over.

"I am desperate to play. I should be fine, these are games that you just don't want to miss, once tomorrow comes I will be fine. "It's an ongoing injury I have had for a while, it has flared up, it was probably my own fault in that I did too much training against the physio's wishes. I have rested and I should be OK for the AZ game."

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