Stephen Kenny faces a demon from his past at the Kadriorg Stadium tonight when Airtricity League leaders Dundalk take on Levadia Tallinn in their opening Europa League qualifier in Estonia (5.0).
The Lilywhites manager was in charge of Bohemians when lowly Levadia sent the Gypsies tumbling out of the UEFA Cup preliminaries in 2004. The 3-1 defeat at Dalymount Park subsequently cost Kenny his job.
He smiled when it was put to him at the stadium last night, before going down the conservative route with his response.
“That’s a lifetime ago now. There’s a lot of water under the bridge since then,” he said.
Dundalk return to this stage for the first time since 2014 after three campaigns in the elite bracket. Twenty-two goal striker Patrick Hoban found the net in their last appearance in this competition, though a 2-1 victory away over Hajduk Split was unable to prevent their exit on aggregate.
The Galwegian’s latest strikes arrived in last Friday’s 3-1 win over St Patrick’s Athletic, while Chris Shields got the other after a wonderful run and pass by this season’s star-man, Michael Duffy.
However, Duffy has emerged as a major fitness doubt for the clash with last year’s Meistriliiga runners-up. The winger has a groin concern and could be joined on the sideline by defender Dean Jarvis. The Lilywhites have also travelled without captain Stephen O’Donnell and Stephen Folan due to knee injuries.
A possible replacement for Duffy is Dylan Connolly. The former Bray Wanderers man arrived at the club with a budding reputation a little over a year ago, but with Duffy starring in his preferred position along the left flank – having scored nine times and assisted for 18 more this term – his opportunities have been restricted to the right side.
However, an ability to adapt to individual losses was a trait of Kenny’s three-in-a-row title winning charges and it’s a quality he feels his side can embody once again.
“We have been missing various players at different parts of the season and we have the capacity to overcome it. We never rely on any player in isolation, we’ve never done that. It’s all about a collective effort,” he said.
Levadia enter having not played a league fixture in a month, while their 16-goal on-loan Ukrainian striker Roman Debelko is likely to provide their liveliest threat.
Unbeaten in their last 13 competitive encounters, the Lilywhites should have too much in reserve.