Back when Stephen Kenny last faced Rosenborg in the Champions League as manager of Bohemians in 2003, the Norwegians were the team most League of Ireland sides wanted to emulate.
A 5-0 aggregate defeat on that occasion showed the gulf in class back then but ahead of tonight’s second qualifying round meeting between Dundalk and Rosenborg at Oriel Park, it’s fair to say times have changed.
While 14 years ago the Trondheim outfit were on a period of domination in their homeland that saw them reach the Champions League group stages in 11 out of 13 seasons, they have failed to get there in the last decade.
After winning back-to-back league and cup doubles in Norway in each of the last two seasons, it’s a target Kåre Ingebrigtsen’s side have in their sights again, but Dundalk have ambitions too.
Their run of 12 European matches last season — including reaching the group stages of the Europa League — raised the bar and, according to their manager, dispelled any fear the Louth men might have about the game.
“They might know a bit more about us because of last year but other teams had a good look at us last year too, and we beat them,” says Kenny.
“Rosenborg’s expectations are to get to the group stages but because we’ve faced some of the great sides that we have, that removes some of the fear element.
“That doesn’t mean you’re complacent because you still have to go up a few levels and it’s well documented about the players that we’ve lost. They are questions we have to answer.”
Kenny has targeted a clean sheet to take to Norway next week but he insisted he would not take a 0-0 draw if it were offered to him beforehand.
“It is important to keep a clean sheet and the tie is alive at that score but if you want me to answer honestly do I want a 0-0, I’d say no.
“I’m sure they will look to score. Their expectations are to get to the group stages but from our point of view it’s nothing new to us.
“We faced some great European clubs over the last couple of seasons so it’s not like we don’t feel we have a chance.
“We trust ourselves and I trust the players.
“For us to beat Rosenborg, it will take two extraordinary performances but we have to back ourselves to try and achieve that,” said Kenny.
Fourteen years on from his last meeting with Rosenborg, Kenny undoubtedly has a side better equipped to shock them than he had during his time at Dalymount. Just how much that gap has closed remains to be seen. All these years on, there’s still much that Irish sides would love to emulate about Rosenborg. In Dundalk there’s a feeling they can better them on the field, if not off it.
“Rosenborg are streets ahead of us in terms of international experience and resources. The two clubs don’t compare in terms of organisation from top to bottom but that all goes out the window when you cross the white line.
“It’s a big challenge for us but we’re hugely motivated to overcome it,” he said.
Dundalk are boosted by a fully fit squad to choose from for the game.
The Dundalk star netted four goals in five games as the Lilywhites won all five games since the mid-season break.
McEleney has scored some stunning goals this season — his favourite being his solo goal in the 6-0 win away to rivals Drogheda on June 16. The midfielder is pleased with how Dundalk have bounced back after losing to league leaders Cork just before the break.
“The defeat to Cork was tough to take,” McEleney said. “We had to go come back and put our heads down, which we have done. We’ve been playing really well since.”
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