Friday 19 January 2018

Kenny's historic heroes master Dutch

Dundalk manager hails 'courage' of his side as late Kilduff goal seals a point away to Alkmaar

Ciaran Kilduff salutes the Dundalk supporters in the AZ Stadion after the match Picture: Sportsfile
Ciaran Kilduff salutes the Dundalk supporters in the AZ Stadion after the match Picture: Sportsfile

Stephen Kenny hailed his ten-man Dundalk heroes after a history-making 1-1 Europa League draw away to AZ Alkmaar

Despite the dismissal of Stephen O'Donnell for a second yellow card, the Lilywhites somehow overcame the numerical disadvantage to pull it out of the fire to become the first ever Irish side to get a point in the group stages of European football.

Ciaran Kilduff's 89th-minute header prompted pandemonium in the away section at a shocked AFAS Stadium.

"To come to Holland play with ten men for that period and still have that belief to defend that goal the way we did, I thought our players were extremely courageous," said the Dubliner.

"AZ looked like they were going to get a second goal a couple of times but players came from nowhere to make terrific challenges and a lot of players put their body on the line.

"We've won back-to-back league titles because players are willing to do that. While we have a skilful and technical team, you can't win anything without having that determination to try and fight for each other and they showed that tonight."

The result will boost the coffers by another €120,000 - more than the prize for winning the League of Ireland but this was all about the achievement.

And this ranks up there with the great Irish performances in Europe as Kenny's charges achieved their target of picking up points at the first attempt.

They looked in trouble after an hour of power was undone by poor decision making.

The League of Ireland champions were extremely competitive at the home of Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar but they fell behind to a goal from nothing when keeper Gary Rogers needlessly raced from his goal to cut out a long ball from centre half Rens van Eijden with AZ's Stijn Wuytens getting there quicker and suffering a blow to the head as he converted.

After a long and worrying delay, Wuytens was stretchered off and later regained consciousness in the dressing room.

The picture was rosier at the interval after a first half which fell in line with Kenny's pre-match thoughts.

He suggested that Dundalk's positive approach would lead to situations where their defence ended up in a game of 4 v 4 with AZ's pacey and youthful attackers.

However, he may not have envisaged that scenario coming to pass inside two minutes, though, and it led to a fortunate escape when Iranian Alireza Jahanbakhsh struck the post.

The League of Ireland champions steadied the ship thereafter with centre halves Andy Boyle and Brian Gartland calm and composed, and O'Donnell an influential figure. He was unlucky to pick up his first caution.

Daryl Horgan was dangerous going forward - Kenny described him as the best player on the pitch - and he might have given the Lilywhites a shock lead but Sergio Rochet was able to cut off his dangerous run.

Dundalk did ride their luck just before the interval when Fred Friday's close range attempt was ruled out for offside. Replays showed it was the wrong call.

That incident led to some tensions between the bench and the locals were anxious as the lowest ranked side in the competition demonstrated that they weren't phased by the step up to this level.

In that context, the soft opener was difficult to swallow and it was Dundalk that initially struggled to recover. Their hopes of securing a point looked to be doomed when skipper O'Donnell was dismissed after a careless challenge resulted in a deserved second booking.

But Kenny's charges regrouped and his subs made a huge impact. Chris Shields' made a lung bursting run that culminated with a free kick that the wonderful Horgan set up for a towering header from Kilduff.

Nine minutes of injury time followed, but they ended with an Irish celebration.

Kenny called Horgan "the best player on the pitch" and called on Irish fans to support his side in forthcoming European games.

First, minds will turn to a league date with Shamrock Rovers next Tuesday in Oriel Park. "Ultimately the next team in the league is determined to beat you. We've a real battle on our hands to retain the title and that's important to us," he said.

"If we want to progress, that's important to us on many levels. It's important Irish fans come out to see us against Maccabi Tel Aviv in a couple of weeks."

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