By James Rogers
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny has encouraged his players to dream ahead of their Europa League tie against AEK Larnaca tonight.
The Lilywhites boss believes the Cypriots, who beat Cork City 1-0 in both legs at this stage last year, are favourites to advance to the next stage of the competition, where the winners will play the losers of the Champions League tie between Ajax and Sturm Graz. Ajax won the first leg 2-0 in Amsterdam last night.
Kenny believes dreaming of an outing in the Amsterdam Arena or Liebenauer Stadium next month can be added motivation ahead of their meeting with Andoni Iraola’s side.
“There’s nothing wrong in getting excited and thinking about the possibilities that exist if you get through,” said Kenny.
“I’d say allow yourself to dream and to think about the possibilities if you do win. That has to be a motivation.
“We respect Larnaca. They’ve had some great victories in Europe in the last couple of years but we just need to focus on playing well ourselves.
“Obviously we know what their strengths are. We understand that they’ve got good players but so have we. They’ve beaten Spartak Moscow and Dinamo Minsk but we’ve also beaten BATE Borisov and Maccabi Tel Aviv so we don’t feel inferior in that regard,” he said.
Kenny also defended the decision to call off last Sunday’s proposed league game away to Sligo Rovers, insisting that doing so had given his side a better chance to prepare for tonight’s match.
“Because we don’t know the players there’s a lot more to it tactically. People say why would you cancel, that you can easily play Sunday and play Thursday but unless you’re involved in it and understand the level of preparation that is needed, it absolutely reduces your chances by half by playing on Sunday.
“It’s not just about recovering and playing. We’re trying to beat teams who are ranked miles above us. They didn’t have to play in the first round. They automatically went to the second round.
“I empathise with Sligo because they’re a great club and they’ve had no match in 11 weeks but we’re only one week of that issue.”
John Mountney is a doubt for the Louth men with a groin problem but Patrick McEleney is available for the first time since re-signing from Oldham Athletic at the start of the month.
AEK Larnaca are without several key players, including captain David Catala, last season’s top goalscorer Florian Taulemesse, Brazilian defender Igor Silva, Montenegro international midfielder Vladimir Boljevic and Cypriot international trio Marios Antoniades, Vincent Laban and Onisiforos Roushias.
Kenny is aware there are plenty more threats in their ranks.
“Many of their players have a lot of appearances in La Liga. (Jorge) Larena has 100 games for Atletico Madrid. (Ivan) Trickovski has had a very good career for Macedonia and is a good goal scorer from midfield so he’s obviously an important player for them too,” he said.