Dundalk out to break duck against Limerick
SSE AIRTRICITY LEAGUE
DUNDALK manager Stephen Kenny is confident his side are finding their rhythm ahead of a crunch week that will see them host Limerick FC at Oriel Park on Tuesday night before travelling to face Derry City in the first game at the revamped Brandywell on Friday night (both kick-offs 7.45pm).
After two scoreless draws in their opening two matches at home to Bray Wanderers and away to Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk are already four points off champions Cork City – who they welcome to Oriel Park on Friday week March 9th.
With that match expected to be a crunch game in the title race, even at this early stage, the Lilywhites boss has targeted a six point return this week.
He doesn’t expect anything easy though. While Limerick were many people’s tips to struggle this season, the Shannonsiders have started well under new manager Tommy Barrett. They won their opening match 1-0 away to Sligo Rovers and looked like they would make it two wins from two at home to Bohemians on Saturday – a match attended by Kenny – only for a 90th minute goal from Eoghan Stokes to earn the visitors a share of the spoils.
‘They missed a great chance with Mark O’Sullivan to go two up,’ Kenny added.
‘They haven’t given up many chances in the two games. They’ve been very strong defensively with two holding midfielders in front of the back four. They haven’t given much away but for us I feel we’re finding our rhythm.
We can approach the game with confidence on Tuesday and we want to go and put in a good display and win the game.
‘Ultimately we’ve got to beat Limerick and then it’s a quick turnover for Derry.
‘If it’s the first game in the Brandywell there’ll be a big crowd at it for their first home game. We had the first home game in Buncrana last year. The opening of the stand is a big deal to the people in Derry so we want to go and make sure that we’re ready to play the game.’
Dundalk expect to have Sean Hoare and Brian Gartland back in the squad this week although it could be the Derry match on Friday before they return. Stephen O’Donnell is also back training but may not be risked this week.
Kenny admitted some of his players are a bit behind where they need to be but is confident they will improve week by week and game by game.
‘Everything happening so late in the day (with the takeover) meant our recruitment was late as well. We’ve brought in really good players but some of them are below the level of fitness that they need to be at.
‘I think Sam Byrne is going to be a very exciting forward when we get him fit and Marco (Tagbajumi) is a proven goalscorer in good leagues. Obviously Pat Hoban is just coming back from injury as well but he was the first player at this club to score 20 goals since Peter Hanrahan so he knows where the back of the net is.
‘We’ll be all right for sure but we just need to get the three points on Tuesday and get back to winning ways.
‘It’s not perfect at the minute but I’ve watched both games back and I thought we deserved to beat Bray and we were the better side the other night against Rovers. We would have preferred four points than two and that would have been a reasonable start but it’s a long season so we just have to get ourselves ready for Limerick on Tuesday and Derry on Friday. We had a lot of good play in the game against Shamrock Rovers and we had some good chances and we should have taken a couple of them to be honest.’
Kenny admits the failure to beat Bray on the opening night has made his side’s start look worse than it actually is.
‘I thought for periods of the game we played quite well but we weren’t consistent over the 90 minutes. We had periods of good play and periods where we fell below the standards that we’d want. There were a lot of good things in the match.
‘We had six new players, four and two who came on. Considering what would have been established as our first choice centre backs, Brian Gartland and Sean Hoare have missed the opening two games, we’ve kept two clean sheets. Obviously Daniel Cleary had an exceptional debut. He only came in a week ago and was very, very good. The back four were good.
‘The midfield gave us a good platform and Michael Duffy in the first half was really raiding brilliantly. He showed great courage, riding tackles with real flair but we just didn’t have enough creativity at times in that final third. We had some good chances but we didn’t take them.
‘Had we beaten Bray last week that’s a really good point but because we didn’t beat Bray it means we’re only on two points which is not what we would have wanted but it’s early days.
‘We’ve had a lot of things that have gone against us in pre-season. We’ve hardly had a 0-0 draw for a couple of years. We had one last season and then all of a sudden we’ve had two. It’s a quick turnaround and a good chance to address it against Limerick on Tuesday and Derry on Friday and we want to get back to winning ways.
‘We’re not far away I think from doing very well,’ he said.
Kenny was full of praise for debutant Daniel Cleary’s display on Friday night.
‘It’s just one game but he was terrific. He couldn’t have had a better debut really. He could have scored maybe because it was a great chance but that club, Crumlin United hasn’t been too bad to us.
‘We got Richie Towell and Andy Boyle from them and they’ve done all right and been good players for us. He knows them well and followed their progress for a few years and he looks like he’s going to be a good player for us.
‘You’d think with the changes at the back, like Stephen Folan and Daniel Cleary never played together before, that we’d be afraid of conceding but we haven’t looked like conceding.
‘We need to have more of a cutting edge overall but we need to take our chances. In them games against Rovers and Cork you’re not going to create loads of chances but you do need to be more clinical than we were. Hopefully we can get back to winning ways on Tuesday.’
Meanwhile, last season’s U-19s captain Jake O’Connor has joined Athlone Town on loan until the summer with Kenny hopeful of him securing game time under Aaron Callaghan.
‘Jake was one of the best players for the U-19s last year. He played a couple of games for the first team and didn’t look out of place. He had just done his Leaving Cert last year and was in our team. He has started college in Dublin.
‘It’s the anomaly again where if you’re 19 and not playing in the first team there’s no matches for you. It must be one of the few leagues in Europe like that. All the other leagues have U-21 tournaments and so forth. It’s not ideal but he has gone to Athlone just to get matches. The matches will bring him on and we’ll see how he gets on and review it in the summer. He has a very good attitude,’ said Kenny.
Stephen Kenny isn’t panicking despite Dundalk’s sluggish start.