Ire­land could do worse than give Kenny a call

The Argus - - SPORT - Sea­mus O’Han­lon

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.

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