Ireland could do worse than give Kenny a call
FOR the second time in four seasons Dundalk secured the double as Stephen Kenny’s side came out on top in yet another exciting and absorbing contest with Cork City.
The two sides have dominated the Irish domestic soccer scene in recent years claiming the last five league titles between them.
This was the fourth season in a row that they faced off against each other in the FAI Cup final but any worries of potential fatigue from the Irish soccer public were quickly allayed with over 30,000 turning up.
There have been precious little goals in the previous three encounters but the game came to life in the 19th minute when Michael Duffy’s inviting corner was met with a fantastic leap and thundering header by Dundalk centre half Sean Hoare.
It rocketed to the top corner of Mark McNulty’s net. The defenders exasperated celebrations as he sprinted down the touchline were mirrored by those of the Dundalk fans in the stands.
However with the booming noise in his ears and the adrenaline still pumping through his veins Hoare conceded a needless penalty within 60 seconds of scoring.
A silly push on Karl Sheppard inside the box allowed Kieran Sadlier to score from the spot kick, his low shot squeezing under the body of Gary Rogers.
Brian Gartland almost made it three goals in as many minutes but his header was cleared off the line. The excitement then subsided and the game took on a more familiar pattern of cagey shadow boxing with neither side willing to give an inch.
There were some tasty tackles also with both sides fortunate not to incur anything more than yellow cards.
As the match drifted into the final quarter very few patrons were relishing the prospects of another bout of extra time. But almost on cue, Cork lost possession very cheaply in midfield and Dundalk pounced.
Sean Gannon floated a delightful cross into the area and Patrick McEleney did the rest. The Derry man doesn’t score too many goals with his head but his contact was sufficient to steer it beyond the Cork keeper.
Gary Rogers then took off a fine save from a deflected shot as the Leesiders pushed hard for an equaliser but Dundalk saw the game out. At the final whistle the Dundalk players, management and staff celebrated wildly with the Lilywhite fans in the crowd. Two heartbreaking cup final defeats make the taste of success all the sweeter.
There was much talk afterwards about possible International call ups for Patrick Hoban, Patrick McEleney and Michael Duffy and rightly so but what about manager Stephen Kenny?
If and when Martin O Neill decides to move on surely Kenny’s name must be high on the FAI’s possible list of replacements. Former international Richard Dunne in his weekly column thinks so also.
The job Kenny has done at Oriel Park since taking over in November 2012 has been truly remarkable. People sometimes forget that Dundalk were almost relegated during that 2012 season. The club were in dire financial trouble with unpaid players wages, many outstanding bills and on the brink of extinction.
Just 260 people turned up for the final home game of the season against Bray on 26th October. Two weeks later Drogheda man Darius Kierans took his side into a two legged relegation play-off against Waterford and after a 2-2 draw in Oriel, a brace from Michael Rafter at the RSC fortunately ensured Premier Division survival.
The rest as they say is history. Local businessmen Andy Connolly and Paul Browne took over ownership from of the club and one of the first things they did was appoint Stephen Kenny, who had been sacked by Shamrock Rovers just two months earlier.
Kenny led the team to a second place finish in his first season followed by four league title successes in five seasons including two doubles. His record both domestically and in Europe have been incredible.
He has built a fantastic management team around him at Oriel Park and his man management skills are exceptional.
His rehabilitation and reintegration of Hoban and McEleney after their less than successful spells across the water speak volumes for how Kenny operates. He also has lost none of his passion, evident from his sprint in the direction of the fans at the final whistle.
Mind you Dundalk US chairman Mike Treacy, with an equally energetic dash towards the winning fans at the finish, gave his manager a good run for his money. A passionate combination that bodes very well for the 2019 season.
Although he may have grown up dreaming of playing in front of 60,000 fans at Celtic Park, Blackrock native James Dunne hardly dreamt of lining out with the opposing side Hearts in such an encounter.
His dad Eamon along with many Geraldines and other GAA stalwarts were part of the travelling party to Scotland.
And while many would not have been too disappointed with the 5-0 scoreline in favour of the home side, all were hugely impressed with the assured display of the former Geraldines clubman.
The Burnley player has been in outstanding form since his loan move to Tynecastle at the beginning of the season.
His recent performances against Stephen Gerrard’s Rangers at Ibrox, in the Edinburgh derby v Neil Lennon’s Hibs and in Saturday’s Celtic game have all added greatly to Jimmy Dunne’s growing reputation.
Stephen Kenny must now be a genuine option for the FAI to succeed Martin O’Neill.