Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny says he has no regrets about missing out on glamour opposition as yesterday’s Europa League draw placed the Irish champions in a testing and long-haul group comprising Russian giants Zenit St Petersburg, Dutch side AZ Alkmaar and Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“These are great footballing ties against great football clubs,” he says.
“I know people were wondering about drawing Manchester United but that’s not a game I would have particularly wanted personally.
“I think I would have been embarrassed playing in Lansdowne Road with more people there supporting an English team than ourselves.
“I would have found that difficult to comprehend.
“I understand the teams we’ve drawn don’t have the lure of an Inter Milan or a Manchester United but I hope people who love the game will get behind us.
“I know that the recent matches against BATE Borisov and Legia Warsaw have really captured the imagination of people right throughout the country.”
Assessing the calibre of the opposition his side will face in the group, Kenny observes: “It’s an interesting draw. Obviously, Zenit St Petersburg won the Europa League in 2008.
“Zenit are a big club in Russia and they have lots of international players, lots of Brazilian players. AZ recently won the Eredivisie (2008/09), while Maccabi Tel Aviv regularly win the league title in Israel.
“I think we have shown in the games against BATE and Legia Warsaw - two teams that have been in the group stages of European competition regularly - that if we play to our full potential we are equals.”
Asked about his targets in the group, he replied: “I think the accumulation of points would be our priority.
“There may be, on one hand, people who might view this as unrealistic, looking at the size of Zenit and their resources, and the fact that they have won this competition.
“But we have to prepare accordingly and try to do our best in these games.”
One major concern of Kenny’s is the potential fixture congestion if they are obliged to fulfil their domestic responsibilities too close to the European games.
“Our club secretary says we might have to play league games on a Monday before a Thursday match and I just think that would be farcical if that’s the case,” he says.
“I’m not sure what the solution is. If our level of preparation is adequate for the Europa League games, we have a chance of accumulating points - and we are well aware that two teams qualify from the group.”
Among the highlights in the rest of the draw, Manchester United will face Fenerbahce – and former striker Robin van Persie – as well as Feyenoord and Zorya Luhansk in Group A, while the Premier League’s other representatives, Southampton, will be mixing it with Inter Milan, Sparta Prague and Hapoel Beer Sheva in Group K.
The Europa League fixture list for Dundalk - who will play all their games on Thursdays, with the home matches expected to be hosted in Tallaght Stadium – is as follows: v AZ (a) Sep 15; Maccabi (h) Sep 29; Zenit (a) Oct 20; Zenit (h) Nov 3; AZ (h) Nov 24 and Maccabi (a) Dec 8.
Europa League draw
Manchester United, Fenerbahce, Feyenoord, Zarya Luhansk
Olympiacos, Apoel Nicosia, Young Boys, Astana
Anderlecht, St Etienne, Mainz, Qabala
Zenit St Petersburg, AZ, Maccabi Tel-Avivi, Dundalk
Plzen, Roma, Austria Vienna, FC Astra Giurgiu
Athletic Bilbao, Genk, Rapid Vienna, Sassuolo
Ajax, Standard Liege, Celta Vigo, Panathinaikos
Shaktar Donetsk, Braga, Gent Konyaspor
Schalke 04, Red Bull Salzburg, Krasnodar, Nice
Fiorentina, PAOK Salonika, Liberec, FK Karabakh
Inter Milan, Sparta Prague, Southampton, Hapoel Beer Sheva
Villarreal, Steaua Bucuresti, FC Zurich, Osmanlispor
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