‘I’ve never been happier in my life’ - Sullivan

Mascot Grace Farrelly with referee Adriano Reale and his assistants Paul Brady and Robert Clarke, Dundalk FC captain, Stephen O'Donnell and Phoenix FC captain Ray Kearns before kick-off in the FAI Ford Cu; second round at Oriel Park
Dundalk right-back John Sullivan says he has “never been happier in his life”, and he has targeted a serious assault on the FAI Cup this season as he looks to go one better than he did with Shelbourne two years ago.

Dundalk right-back John Sullivan says he has “never been happier in his life”, and he has targeted a serious assault on the FAI Cup this season as he looks to go one better than he did with Shelbourne two years ago.

The young defender has impressed in what is a new role for him having previously played in midfield, with the Lilywhites recording five clean-sheets in their last eight games.

Two of those came during last week when Dundalk sent out a message to the rest of the league by ending Sligo’s unbeaten home record before they easily passed the challenge of non-league Phoenix.

Riding high

And with the Louth club riding high in fourth, now just four points behind the defending champions, and into the last 16 of the FAI Cup, life is sweet for the Dubliner.

“It’s massive for the town,” Sullivan said after Friday’s 4-0 win when asked how big the FAI Cup is to Dundalk’s season.

“We’re one of the top four in the league. Why can’t we go on and win it? The sky’s the limit, especially in these competitions – you can sneak through the back door right into the final. Anything can happen.

“How much am I enjoying it (here)? I’m not going to lie – I’ve never been happier in my life. If the Gaffer offered me another contract, I’d sign it easily.

“I love everything about the club – the fans, the Chairman, people behind the Board, the Gaffer, and mainly the lads. I love everything about it.”

Speaking on his right-back role, Sullo added: “At first, it was new to me, but now I enjoy it. I come out every Friday looking forward to right-back.

“The Gaffer and Vinny say to me after every game ‘you didn’t do this, you didn’t do that’. Once they keep encouraging me and giving me criticism – not in a negative way – so I can turn them into positives, I’m happy.”

Reflecting on their comfortable win over Phoenix, Sullivan – who lost out on penalties to Sligo in the FAI Cup final with Shels in 2011 – said: “I thought it was a great game. It was end-to-end at times. They kept coming at us.

“They’re a good side. They still try to play ball even when they’re 3-0 and 4-0 down, so I respect them for that.

“For us, it’s a great positive. It’s another win and another clean-sheet, and we’ve got to look forward now to the Drogheda game coming up.”

Dundalk were rarely troubled throughout, but Sullivan admitted that it was important to get the early goal. “Especially against – I don’t like to say it – but the lesser sides,” he said.

“This is their Cup final and if you get that early goal, they build momentum and confidence and they keep coming at you. But the early goal sets them back, which is great for us.”

The 22-year-old was part of the Shels side that were stunned by Sheriff YC in the FAI Cup in 2011 before they were given a reprieve after the AUL side played a suspended player.

And, having experienced that, getting motivated for Phoenix was no problem for the defender. “I’ll never forget that one,” he said, “that magnificent 3-2 game. Since then, I just keep thinking of what can happen.

“I kept saying to the lads, even at 3-0 at half-time, keep the foot on the gas and keep going at them. If you don’t, they’ll keep coming at you and they’ll get a chance somehow, and if they get one and score then God knows what is going to happen.”

Concluding, Sullivan stated that last Tuesday’s win in Sligo was “massive” for the team’s confidence. “I think we were 11/2,” he said. “Nobody favoured us at all. But we knew what we were capable of. I don’t think they did.

“We had a game-plan and we stuck to it, and it could have been 2-0 or 3-0, easily.”