All eyes on crucial Cork showdown
SSE AIRTRICITY LEAGUE
DUNDALK are not in action this week but manager Stephen Kenny insists it is business as usual as they continue to prepare for the crunch league meeting away to Cork City on Friday week.
The game on September 21st at Turner’s Cross has been brought forward to 7.15pm to accommodate TV coverage on RTÉ Two.
Victory in that game would be ‘season-defining’ according to Kenny, as it would almost guarantee the return of the league title to Oriel Park.
With two weeks to prepare for it after Friday night’s FAI Cup win away to Limerick FC, Kenny admitted that he would use the period to prepare for the crunch match with the reigning champions like a European fixture.
‘We will treat it like that and make sure we’re ready,’ he said.
‘We had 13 straight victories and then we lost to Rovers but we’ve responded to that with two victories. Now we’ve got to go to Cork and put in a big performance and try to get what would be a season-defining victory.
‘It’s a bit unusual to have two weeks without a game and it can upset your rhythm a little bit but we must not allow It to. We’re not going to over train either and we’re not going to play a friendly because we want to leave it and get ourselves right.
‘We’ll have a good training week. We won’t be taking our foot off the gas. We’ve just got DUNDALK RFC’s Leinster League team have just completed their pre-season preparations with a team-building weekend at The Curragh - and history suggests it could be the forerunner to a successive campaign.
The squad’s two previous such trips to the Kildare army camp both came at the start of years where they won major silverware - the All-Ireland Junior Cup, Towns Cup and Leinster League - and after finishing third last time out they’ll be looking to put in a stronger challenge in Division 1A.
In particular they’ll want to improve their home record after losing four of their seven league fixtures at Mill Road in to get the balance right between getting the level of intensity right in the sessions and not overtraining,’ he said.
Dundalk go into their mini-break on a high after a 4-0 win away to Limerick FC on Friday and Kenny was delighted with the impact of the four players brought into the side from the previous week’s league win at the Markets Field.
‘I thought it was a brilliant performance overall. I thought we were absolutely outstanding on the night. It was a good, comprehensive win and that’s what we wanted.
‘It was a big week for John Mountney and Patrick McEleney coming back in and getting 120 minutes in the Leinster Senior Cup on Monday and playing a really good 90 minutes on Friday against Limerick. That will do their match fitness levels and their confidence the world of good. Ronan Murray has made a very good contribution over the last few weeks and been important and of course Dane didn’t play last week but he’s getting back to form and playing well.’
Kenny was particularly excited to see John Mountney back in action after a frustrating year for him on the injury front.
‘John has had a very difficult season with injuries,’ he said.
‘He did his medial knee ligament and then had a thigh injury. He can be an important player between now and the end of the season. He is someone that I value a lot and he looks like he’s improved this year to be honest. He is one of those who has improved gradually every year rather than dramatically but this year as a man and a person he is more confident in himself and that is being displayed in his performances.
‘He’s a good player and it’s great to have him ready now for the remaining games.’
The manager also lavished praise on Georgie Kelly, who scored Dundalk’s fourth on the night after coming off the bench.
‘He is really improving all the time. He gives us a real physical presence. It’s important not to be too dependent on any player. We were a little bit dependent on Pat Hoban but Georgie has come in and scored a good goal against Harps and a good goal against Limerick.
‘He played 120 minutes on Monday nights and incredibly he covered 15km in the game. He’s really leading the line well and his first touch is excellent and getting better.’
Kenny also expressed pride in the performance of his players in their Leinster Senior Cup defeat to St Patrick’s Athletic the previous Monday.
‘Mark Traynor coming in from the U-17s is doing his Leaving Cert in the Marist and he did very well,’ he said.
‘There were quite a few young players in the team but crucially the first team players who needed to play got vital minutes and that was important.’ the 2017/18 season, and the visit of Gorey this Saturday (kick-off 3pm) gives them a good opportunity to get off to a winning start.
Assistant coach MJ McKevitt is in upbeat mood about Dundalk’s prospects, hoping that lessons have been learned from last season when they were in title contention until suffering defeat in three of their last four games.
‘Getting in the top four last season and qualifying for the All-Ireland Junior Cup was the big thing - we won that competition the last time we were in it,’ he pointed out.
‘But it could have been a lot better because it was there for us when we beat Ashbourne [eventual champions] in January.
‘The league is your bread and butter, we’re looking for top four again this season and I’d be very happy if we achieved that.
‘The first game is so important in this league because it’s all about momentum. It’s going to be very tight and every point will matter, but Gorey have a huge pack, they’re a physical team and they beat us in the last game of the season down there.’
Highlights of Dundalk’s pre-season games were the 14-14 draw away to AIL club Malahide last week, and victory in the annual Lockington Cup game against CIYMS in Belfast, their first since the beginning of the decade.
But equally encouraging, according to McKevitt, has been the blending of young talent into the squad.
The league is your bread and butter, we’re looking for top four again
‘A number of last year’s Under-18s made their debuts in Belfast and that’s what I’m particularly pleased to see. It’s what we need to do looking to the future, and we had 25 Under-18s training the other night which is almost unheard of and bodes well.’
Wary of too much information winging its way to Gorey in the next couple of days, McKevitt declined to reveal the names of two new backs who may feature in Saturday’s league opener, but he did say that two club stalwarts of recent years have moved on, in David Whately and Gearoid McDonald.
‘We’re looking to change the way we play, so the head coach Mike Walls will step in at 10 [from scrum half] and dictate the play from there.
‘Tiernan Gonnelly, our Player of the Year last year, will go to number 8, second row Ben Mortimer has come down from Donegal and is doing very well, and we’re strong in the front row where we have three of the Leinster [junior] squad - Sean Arrowsmith, Robert Farrell and John Smyth.
‘And Enda Murphy has agreed to stay on as captain this season. He gells everyone together and is a real father-figure and I couldn’t speak highly enough of him.’
The Gorey game is followed by a trip to face old foes Enniscorthy on Saturday week and a tricky home game against Wicklow in round three, and also on the horizon is the first-round All-Ireland Junior Cup tie away to Instonians on Hallowe’en weekend.
McKevitt also expressed the hope that Dundalk would give a good account of themselves in the Towns Cup this season, having performed ‘very poorly’ in the prestigious knockout competition since winning it in 2011.
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny acknowledges supporters following the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup quarter-final