With the SSE Airtricity League on its mid season break, everybody connected with Dundalk FC will be turning their attention towards Nyon in Switzerland when the draw for the first and second qualifying rounds of the Champions League takes place this Monday, June 22.
Stephen Kenny’s side are one of 34 teams who will be in the hat for the second qualifying round. With a UEFA coefficient of 2.150, the Lilywhites are expected to be ranked as the second lowest unseeded club in the draw, leaving them with a list of 17 potential opponents.
The highest ranked of these seeded teams is Romanian side, Steua Bucharest, who reached the final of the European Cup in 1989 with the rest of the top seeds reading like a who’s who of European football with clubs such as Scottish champions, Celtic, Apoel (Cyprus), Bate Borisov (Belarus), Ludogrets (Bulgaria), Dynamo Zagreb (Croatia), Maribor (Slovenia), Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel), Lech Poznan (Poland) and Partizan Belgrade (Serbia) all included.
The remaining seven clubs are just as tough with potential trips to Malmo (Sweden) - who Dundalk met in the UEFA Cup in 1995 - Qarabag (Azerbaijan), HJK Helsinki (Finland), Molde (Norway), Midtjylland (Denmark), Videoton (Hungary) and KF Skenderbeu (Albania).
A tie with the Hungarian or Albanian club would be seen by many as Dundalk’s most realistic route to the third round and Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny said that progress, rather than a high profile tie, was the name of the game.
“I’m not looking for a glamour tie, I want to win. We’re in the business of winning matches. We don’t have an inferiority complex so we don’t want a glamour tie just to collect a few jerseys, we’re not into that,“ he said.
The rewards for making it to the third round are astronomical for a League of Ireland club. Not only would Dundalk bank over €1 million in prize money but they would also be guaranteed a further four European games as teams eliminated from the third qualifying round enter the fourth qualifying round of the Europa League.
“We want to win games and we want to progress so ideally we want one of the lowest possible seeds. That would guarantee us a minimum of six matches in Europe,” said Kenny.
“This group of players got good experience last year and I think I’ve been involved in 26 European games. I want more and I’m hungry for more. European football is the level you want to be playing at.”
Many neutrals will be hoping for the mouth watering prospect of Dundalk taking on Celtic but Kenny refuted suggestions that drawing the Hoops would be a commercially lucrative tie for the Lilywhites.
“It would only be good for the club if it was moved to the Aviva Stadium and it was full because we wouldn’t get any of the gate from Parkhead. We only get the home gate and we’d probably play it at Oriel Park so it wouldn’t really be of any financial benefit to get Celtic.
“We’ll see what the draw brings,” he added. “We’re hungry to do well and although there is a mid season break, the players are back in training on Thursday and we have a training weekend planned for this weekend to be ready for the games before the European tie.”
The first leg of the second qualifying round will be played on July 14/15 with the return leg taking place seven days later.