Stephen Kenny is determined to justify his selection as the Philips Sports Manager of the Year by guiding Dundalk into the last 32 of the Europa League tonight.
The 45-year-old had just taken his seat for a pre-match press conference ahead of the clash with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Netanya Stadium yesterday when word broke of his selection as only the third League of Ireland manager to win the award, after Jim McLaughlin in 1986 and Paul Doolin in 2007.
Due to the fact he is in Israel, his wife Siobhan and daughter Caoimhe had to collect the honour on his behalf in Dublin as he saw off competition from the likes of Martin O’Neill, Frank Gavin, John Kavanagh, and Joe Schmidt.
While humbled by the honour, Kenny said he would happily pass it up for a victory over the Israeli side tonight.
“It’s not something I set out to do or anything like that and I didn’t think when I seen the list of people up for the award that I would win it but it’s appropriate now that we’re here playing the biggest game of the year on the day it’s on so we hope to justify that and go and get a victory.
“It would be great to go and do that and get into the next stages of the Europa League,” said Kenny.
Of course, neither Dundalk nor Maccabi’s destiny is in their own hands, with both sides needing a favour off Group D winners Zenit St Petersburg in Holland if they are to make it through to the last 32.
If the Russians win at the AFAS Stadion, then a score draw will be enough to see Dundalk through, while a win would also see them advance if the game in Alkmaar finishes in a draw.
Kenny is aware that his side’s fate is out of his hands but said they can only concentrate on themselves.
“AZ Alkmaar are in control of their own destiny. They have 100% control over whether they go through or not but from our point of view it’s very difficult to predict what could happen.
“Three teams have a chance of progressing and we’re one of them. We can’t be preoccupied by the other game. We must just focus on the game and try to pull off what would be a major win for us.”
While Dundalk have already beaten Maccabi 1-0 in Tallaght in September, the manager insists it will be a different proposition to repeat that away from home.
“We played well on that night but we have to try and reproduce that,” he said.
“We know that Maccabi are at home so the challenge is even greater but we look forward to that.”
The Israeli outfit have won just three of their 11 outings in all competitions since losing to Dundalk, with speculation raging that manager Shota Arveladze could be sacked regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game.
Kenny was only interested in his own side when queried on the matter though.
“To be honest, it’s something that I can’t preoccupy my mind with.
“We’ve got to focus on ourselves. We’ve played to a very high level in a lot of the European games but we were below par in the last game against AZ and dropped our standards somewhat so we need to rise to the level we were at in the previous games and see if we can win the game.
“It really would be historic if we got through.
“We’ve just got to continue to believe in ourselves. We’ve had a little setback recently but we’ve got to respond and a win really would be quite sensational,” he said.
The Lilywhites are expected to have both Stephen O’Donnell and Chris Shields available following recent hamstring problems as both took part in training last night.
“There is permutations that a score draw could put us through if Zenit win their match, but we must not think like that. We can’t think like that,” Kenny said. “It is a win or nothing for me and I only see it as a win or nothing game for us. Maccabi are huge favourites with their record. They have been in the Champions League and have 17 international players, but we have achieved special things over the last few years and we must strive to go one further.”
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