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Kenny Looking Forward To ‘Intensive Programme’

First Team News
// 5 Aug 2018

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny admitted that Thursday was a ‘very disappointing night’ for his Lilywhites in Larnaca. Speaking to dundalkfc.com, the boss reflected on the defeat to AEK Larnaca and feels they were ruthlessly punished in that first half.

“It was a very disappointing night for us in Larnaca. We can’t get away from that. Conceding the two goals in the first 20 minutes, made a comeback a tall order. Conceding the third before half-time made it an absolute mountain to climb.

“AEK Larnaca had three shots on target in the half and scored three goals. They punished us every time. It was very uncharacteristic of a defence which has only conceded 12 goals all season and only 1 in the previous 3 European games, including against Larnaca at Oriel Park.

“To concede the goals that we did was careless. There are lessons to be learned Trichovski scored the first with a good finish, it could have been prevented but Trichovski’s finish is excellent.  For the second goal Sean Hoare didn’t see Tete.  He just didn’t see him and he crept in behind to finish.  The second and third goals from the team point of view are poor defending.

“We were also denied a certain penalty from the clear foul on Jamie McGrath in the first half which would have left it 2-1.”

The manager spoke about Sean Hoare and feels that the criticism has been unjustified due to some of his superb performances this season and feels that one bad half has cost them their place in this season’s UEFA Europa League however has backed the players to learn from the experience.

“People have been saying Sean isn’t a right back but recently he was voted not only as the best player in that position, but as the best player in any position – his performances were that good! He has been excellent at right back for us.

“We were poor collectively for the goals conceded I feel.

“In my time here that is my 24th game in Europe. We have never lost over two legs by more than a goal. We have played teams ranked a lot higher than AEK Larnaca.

“We have been punished for one bad half. When they start as quickly as that, if we can just see that period out you find that the temperature drops significantly in the second half and you have a better chance.

“The fact that we defended as poorly as we did means we got punished. It’s difficult to come back from that. We have learned valuable lessons from it.”

It has been two years since we reached the group stages of the Europa League and Kenny pointed to the change in squad in that time however looking at the overall picture, feels that while going to the group stages was a very difficult task this year, it has been a productive campaign with coefficient points secured to increase our seeding heading into next season’s European campaign.

“The team in 2016 which qualified for the group stages of the Europa League played 12 games against some of the top teams in Europe. In the game on Thursday only 3 of those started. That was Brian Gartland, Chris Shields and Robbie Benson. A lot of the players are relatively inexperienced in the European context.

“I do feel that overall although we did want to progress this season, to go through four rounds at the level that we would have had to go through to the group stages was a very difficult assignment.

“The fact that we have won two games and got through the first round of the competition this year has lifted our coefficient. Last season we found that we were half a point short for being seeded for the Champions League. We don’t know what competition we will be in next season, whether that is Champions League or Europa League, but ultimately we will be seeded for it and that is very productive. We are trying to move forward as a club.  I have been informed that our coefficient is now 7.

Kenny feels that the experience will stand to his players and while the conditions were difficult, that is something which you have to deal with at that level of competition.

“The players will get the benefit of experience. Ultimately in the game itself, there’s no getting away from the fact that we were too open and we always play in quite an open way. You can’t play with two wingers hugging the line. Our wide players had to be more productive in terms of how they kept the ball.

“They were dispossessed trying to take a man on in their own half at times and you encourage individuality but the decision making needs to be better. Our ball retention had to be better which has always been a strong point in Europe.

“The players found the conditions difficult in the first half with the humidity, the second half they eased somewhat but these things that you have to contend with in Europe.  It’s better not to seek refuge in those issues although the redheads struggled in the heat!”

The disappointing factor for the boss was the fact that his side are capable of much better and while he acknowledges that, he doesn’t believe the narrative that there is no progress made towards other leagues as accurate and uses our own success in the past as evidence of this.

“We are capable of doing much better than we did and that was the disappointing thing, we never gave ourselves a chance. We had a scoreless draw in the first leg and we would have liked to have taken a lead in the first leg and probably deserved it.

“We have already seen what happens when you lose a match convincingly in the manner that we did, people say ‘oh we are miles away from all the other leagues.’ You come in for a lot of criticism from a lot of quarters.

“Then when we beat teams that are ranked above us, it doesn’t automatically mean that we are better than them. When we beat BATE Borisov, Maccabi Tel-Aviv or go away to AZ Alkmaar and get a result or Rosenborg, we don’t automatically think that we are at their level.  We just know that we are capable of going and putting in great performances.

“Likewise, just because we lost, defended poorly and got punished doesn’t make us a bad side. We have to take the criticism. It’s irrelevant to us. People talk about the 12 games in 2016 but we have lost Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle, Ronan Finn, David McMillan and Patrick McEleney out of that side.

“Stephen O’Donnell has been injured long term and Sean Gannon only passed a late test to take part at all.”

There have been many changes to the squad over the past couple of seasons and the Dublin native believes that the showing against AEK Larnaca was ‘unique’ in terms of the overall picture and knows that the younger players will benefit from the lessons over the two legs.

“We will debrief on the things that we didn’t do right in Larnaca. We will analyse it and understand those are the mistakes that we have not made before in the 23 games. They have all been tightly contested affairs. That is a unique game in that regard.

“When we beat BATE Borisov 3-0 and played brilliantly we didn’t automatically assume that we were 3 goals better than them. That game was in isolation.

“It is a steep learning curve for some of the players. Jamie McGrath, Dylan Connolly, Michael Duffy and Sean Hoare coming into their first European campaign proper.

“Sean didn’t play in Europe last year, Niclas Vemmelund was playing. We have Dean Jarvis and Daniel Cleary also with their first campaigns and they will be better for the experience. ”

Patrick McEleney has returned to the club and took part for all of the second half on Thursday however those exertions have now ruled him out of this week’s fixtures.

“He played 45 minutes on Thursday night and played very well in the second half but his groin is tight after it. That has ruled him out of both games against Cobh Ramblers this week. He isn’t going to play Monday or Friday.  He had a very injury interrupted time in England. We have to tread carefully with him and we have to manage him. He is ruled out of both games this week. He clearly wasn’t ready to start.

“Sean Gannon only joined in with the team the night before at the stadium having not trained properly for a couple of weeks with a calf strain. We weren’t sure on him but we played him in the second half and he did well.  Someone coming back from a calf strain like that without even training with the team. You never know how these things will go.”

The 46 year-old heaped praise on the current squad and feels they are ready for the final stages of the season where hey will try to regain their league title and is pleased with the progression of the younger players in the squad.

“This group of players have done brilliantly this season. We are looking forward to the game tomorrow in Cobh in the league cup and we are looking forward also to the FAI Cup match against them on Friday.

“We have ten games to go in the league and the main objective for us has been to win the league. We have won three league titles in a row which was historic. Cork City won the title last season and we finished second. We are trying to regain the title with a lot of young players that we signed last season including Sean Hore, Jamie McGrath, Daniel Cleary, Dylan Connolly and Michael Duffy.

“We have set a new record of 11 straight league victories plus other domestic cup victories which is a terrific achievement. Before the Larnaca tie, we had 16 straight wins in all competitions and the defeat was a kick in the teeth. It is one that we have to respond to.

“We have a tough programme coming up. We requested that the Sligo Rovers game be played next Monday or Tuesday which is the dates after the FAI Cup but that has been refused and it is being played on August 20th.

“We wanted to get that fixed soon because we have to refix the game against Shamrock Rovers as well as other possible refixtures depending on how we go against Cobh. We wanted to get them in as early as possible.

“We have two away matches in four days after the Cup against Bray Wanderers and Sligo. We are very focused on the run in with the final number of games. It will be an intensive programme. The players’ attitude overall has been excellent.”

Kenny singled out the centre midfield of Chris Shields and Robbie Benson for praise and believes that Lithuanian international Karolis Chvedukas can have a major role to play between now and November. He also is looking forward to the final stages of the season and knows his side will be ready, hailing the hunger and determination within the group.

“The central midfield pairing of Chris Shields and Robbie Benson has been excellent. Robbie Benson has got some crucial goals throughout the season. Shields and Benson have given us a great platform.

“Karolis Chvedukas is capable of having a big impact between now and the end of the season. He can make a very important contribution between now and the end of the season. He is looking quite sharp and has a key role to play also.

“We look forward to travelling to Cobh tomorrow before hosting them here on Friday. After that it is quite an intensive run of fixtures including the refixed games. It is a programme we will be ready for.

“We have an awful lot to play for this season. The players are very hungry and determined to finish the season strongly. There’s a great hunger in the dressing room, a real determination.

“I think the players will get better again.”

Team news vs Cobh Ramblers (EA Sports Cup semi-final)

We do indeed have the EA Sports Cup semi-final on Monday and we travel to Cobh Ramblers on Monday evening The match kicks-off at 5 p.m. at St. Colman’s Park and as the boss confirmed above, Patrick McEleney is ruled out with a groin problem and Stephen O’Donnell continues his recovery from a broken leg. Georgie Kelly is cup-tied after his earlier involvement in the competition with UCD. Stephen Folan returns to the squad after a knee injury and Sam Byrne also is in contention after shaking off a hamstring injury. Youth players Pablo Calvacante, Karl Fitsimmons, Jack O’Keeffe and Nedas Maciulaitis come into the squad.