Last Thursday week Dundalk's Europa League match welcomed AZ Alkmaar to the Tallaght Stadium for another game in Dundalk's Europa League group. It was a game that the home side knew a victory would almost certainly see them qualify into the next stages of the competition. No matter what the result it has without doubt been a truly magnificent season for the Lillywhites.
Stephen Kenny and his squad of players have done themselves and the Airtricity League proud. They have without a shadow of a doubt brought football in this country to another level. A club that was on it's knees a few season's back has risen to incredible heights. The work that Stephen Kenny and his not to often mentioned assistant Vinny Perth have put in has been incredible. Winning another title has been the highlight of this season so far and they won that with such style. Going into the game against AZ Alkmaar was going to need a monumental effort to get the victory. So as the teams lined up in the tunnel to come out in front of yet another full house, the hosts knew qualification was in their own hands and if victorious they would go down in history as arguably the greatest side ever to come out of this small island.
It was unfortunately to be a very long and frustrating night for the home side. AZ came out of the traps very early and went at Dundalk from the very first whistle. They grabbed the only goal of the game in the tenth minute when a Tankovic shot found it,s way to Weghorst who scored. It was the last thing Stephen Kenny's men needed and in fairness to the Dutch side they deserved their lead. As we all Dundalk have been playing nearly three games a week in their final couple of weeks in the Airtricity League and after the Cup Final which was played on the 6th of November, they had not had a competitive match since. To keep things ticking over they played Brentford reserves in a friendly in London, a game which they lost. It was so evident in this Alkmaar game that they had not played for a while as they struggled not only to find each other with the ball, but also in the first half it looked liked they were substantially off the pace of the game. The goal allowed AZ to sit back and defend their lead as a draw would suit them. Dundalk on the night never really created any clear chances and had to rely on scraps. A couple of headers by Kilduff went astray and if it had not been for some excellent goalkeeping by Gary Rogers the score could have been a lot worse. Ronan Finn nearly pulled the rabbit out of the hat late on in the game when his lobbed shot fell the wrong side of the post as everyone looked on with dismay. In my opinion it was a poor performance by Dundalk on the night and I know they can play a lot better, but on this night things did not fall right for them.
Although a defeat against the Dutch side was a blow, it is not the end of the run in the Europa League for Stephen Kenny and his players. They next travel to Tel Aviv to take on Macabbi in their last game of the group stages. Unfortunately it is now out of their own hands as to what way this will all turn out. The simple way of looking at it is, they need to win and hope Zenith who have already qualified will put in a good performance and beat Alkmaar in the Netherlands. It will be a ask for both of these things to happen and it will be in the lap of the footballing gods as to how things turn out. No matter what the outcome it has been an amazing season for Dundalk and their fans. They have given a real lift to football in this country and has everyone talking about their escapades in Europe this season, there is not a day goes by without someone passing a comment to me about it. One way or another we will know their faith next Thursday evening after the Macabbi game and let us all hope this historical year can end on a huge high and push this European dream into the next round, which will be at the start of next year, we can only keep our fingers crossed.