King Kenny wants some continuity as Duffy signs
DUNDALK FC manager Stephen Kenny expects ‘minimal change’ at Oriel Park over the winter months as he plots to retain the league title which his side officially won on Friday night.
A late Pat Hoban strike earned a 1-1 draw at home to St Patrick’s Athletic to make it four league titles from the last five for the Lilywhites.
The title win also ensures a return to the Champions League next season but perhaps the best news to emerge on Friday night came an hour or so after the full-time whistle when it broke that Michael Duffy had penned a new two-year deal to remain at Oriel Park.
With Gary Rogers also tied down during the week for next season and deals understood to be close to agreement with John Mountney, Dane Massey and Robbie Benson, Kenny is looking forward to having a continuity in his squad as he looks to build on this season’s potentially record breaking achievements.
‘There will be minimal changes I feel,’ he told The Argus as he looked ahead to next season.
‘Continuity is important. When we won the double in 2015 and got into the group stages of the Europa League the following year the continuity element was important. We only signed Benson and McEleney that year and lost Richie Towell.
‘I think there has to be an element of continuity now because we’ve had radical changes over the last year in the squad and you don’t want too much change because continuity helps you be successful.’
A new goalkeeper is expected to arrive at the club in the off-season with Monaghan native Aaron McCarey, currently with Warrenpoint Town, expected to compete with Rogers for the number one jersey. Aaron McEneff and Aaron Bolger have both been mentioned as possible midfield recruits while there is more than a passing interest in Bohemians winger Daniel Kelly.
Sometimes the best piece of business you can do is keeping what you have and retaining Duffy is a huge boost.
‘Michael is very happy in Dundalk,’ Kenny told The Argus.
‘He loves it at the club and he’s performing consistently every week. He’s never injured and never misses a day’s training hardly. He has played every game this season and always gives everything. If it’s not happening for him he never stops going. He keeps trying and gives it everything for 90 minutes.
‘He’s supremely fit and he’s had an extremely exceptional season so of course we’re glad to have him here for another two years. The Derry contingent - Dean Jarvis, Patrick McEleney and Michael - are close to each other. They’re almost inseparable as lifelong friends.
‘Gary has been very consistent too,’ he said of his goalkeeper.
‘He is probably in better physical shape than he was two or three years ago.’
The manager also had plenty of praise for Pat Hoban after his late goal ensured the title celebrations didn’t come after a defeat.
‘It was great to win it like that,’ he said. ‘St Pat’s had a game plan obviously to stop us playing. The two shots that hit the crossbar, it was hard to believe they didn’t go in but they stifled us quite well after that and scored with their first chance. We found it difficult to break them down but maybe there was a little bit of a lack of edge in our play but ultimately to get the goal so late was such a thrill because everyone from players to staff to supporters could celebrate in that moment and afterwards.
‘It would have been something of an anti-climax had we lost and celebrated. It wouldn’t have detracted from the achievement but it was great to have that moment and that will live long in the memory for everyone.’
On Hoban, Kenny said: ‘He’s incredible. All the 90th minute goals he has got for us. The two OGs as well were down to him against Cork and Waterford. They went in off defenders but he forced the defenders into the mistakes.
‘He is the man you want in the 90th minute to get it if you have a chance. He’s terrific.
‘He got a big goal in the match against Rovers in the match we won 5-2. It was a great headed goal for the equaliser. That was a brilliant goal at a time the game was going against us. He has been really so consistent.’
While some doubted whether Hoban had what was required to lead the line for Dundalk after a disappointing few years in England, Kenny said he never doubted the Loughrea native’s ability.
‘I believed in him,’ he said.
‘I thought he was brilliant the year he went (in 2014). We had a team player of the year that year and I gave it to him. We haven’t had that before or since but I thought he was unbelievable the first year we won the league, particularly in the second half of that season. He has got better since then.
‘He was injured for a lot of his spell in England and that was the concern that he’d come back and still have those problems but Danny Miller did an incredible job with him in the off season and he deserves huge credit for getting him in the condition he’s in.
‘For the first eight or nine games we had to concentrate on giving him an hour in matches. People were saying what are you taking him off for but we had to manage him and that’s what we did.’
While pinpointing the victory in Cork last month as a ‘big moment’ in the season, another came back at the start of May in the RSC, a venue Dundalk return to this Friday. The Lilywhites had just lost 2-1 to Waterford FC in a game in which captain Stephen O’Donnell broke his leg but after a lengthy team meeting they would go on to win the next 13 matches in-a-row.
‘It was a great response after that but the players deserve a huge amount of credit,’ said Kenny.
‘Their attitude has been excellent. Players that haven’t been regulars in particular have really supported the team and got behind everyone. It’s not easy to achieve that but all the players in the squad collectively have been brilliant.
‘There was a lot of pressure this year. With the new ownership group, we hadn’t won the league with them and that was important to do that but that wasn’t even the main issue. This was just for ourselves. We’re just driven to win things. All the league titles have been special. I wouldn’t say one was more special than the other but certainly it’s special to win the league. It’s the pinnacle of your career.
‘We’ll look forward to getting the trophy back now. It didn’t look right looking at our trophy cabinet with it not in it this year. It looked empty without it so it’s good to have it back in,’ he said.
Despite having the league wrapped up, the manager is hopeful of ending the season on a high. That will be difficult on Friday night with six players definitely out of the trip to Waterford (kick-off 7.45pm).
‘Robbie Benson is out. We don’t know how long he’ll be out for because he needs to have a scan on his knee after the injury he picked up on Friday night. We’ll have to wait and see on that,’ said Kenny.
‘Chris Shields and Daniel Cleary are both suspended and Jamie McGrath is on Under 21 international duty so those four are out. Obviously then we’ve the two long term injured players Stephen O’Donnell and Karolis Chvedukas so Jake O’Connor and Georgie Poynton will come into the picture.
‘Obviously there will be several changes this week because of the injuries and suspensions but we want to be consistent over the next few weeks and finish the season strongly,’ said Kenny.
Meanwhile, club captain Stephen O’Donnell is hoping to take part in his first full week of training this week as he continues his comeback from his leg break back in May.
I think there has to be an element of continuity now because we’ve had radical changes over the last year in the squad and you don’t want too much change because continuity helps you be successful
The Dundalk players celebrate in the dressing room after clinching the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title.