As I spoke with a local reporter in the Brandywell prior to Friday night’s game between Derry City and Dundalk, the conversation, somewhat inevitably, turned to how Stephen Kenny was doing in his first season at Oriel Park.
Kenny, of course, is well known to those on the Bogside having spent six years as a manager of the Candystrpes in two different spells. The chat ended with a Derry City supporter making the following remark.
“The best thing about Kenny is that he will go all out to try and win games”, said the City fan. “If the game is a draw or he’s losing he will send on as many attackers as possible to try and win the game.”
How these words rang through on Friday night.
With the game game approaching the 88th minute, and Dundalk looking like they would have to ‘settle’ for a point, Kenny rolled the dice and introduced Tiarnan Mulvenna. His number came up.
Speaking afterwards, the Dundalk boss was in fine spirits. It was no surprise. The win lifts the Lilywhites right back into the melting pot at the top; six points behind leaders St Pat’s, three behind Derry City and two behind Sligo Rovers. Of equal importance, it also increased the gap ahead of fifth placed Shamrock Rovers to five points.
“I always try and win games”, said Kenny. “A draw only gets you a point. We gambled last week a little bit when we brought Tiarnan on when we were two up in Limerick and ended up losing. But you’d rather win three or four games and lose one than draw three or four.”
That Limerick defeat was hard to take for Kenny and his troops. However Dundalk have a great knack of responding to setbacks and anytime they have been beaten in a league game this season, they have replied with victory in their next outing.
“It was a long week”, admitted Kenny. “When you lose like we did in Limerick it’s devastating. It was such a deflating defeat. It wasn’t such a bad performance down there but to lose it in the manner we did was hard to take.
“We all had a look at ourselves in relation to the goals we conceded down there and everybody put their body on the line tonight.
“It was a real gutsy performance here”, he added. “It was a different type of performance. When we played Derry City at Oriel Park earlier in the season we were absolutely brilliant for the first half and hour but ended up losing it. Tonight was different. We had to dig in and we had our backs to the wall. We got our shape, passed the ball well and controlled much of the second-half.”
Another facet of Dundalk’s season has been the contribution of every member of the squad. Darren Meenan, Chris Shields and Eoghan Osborne all started at the Brandywell with all three playing important roles in the victory.
Then there was Mulvenna, whose appearance may have been small in terms of minutes played but huge in terms of impact.
“We dug in and everybody played their part”, agreed the Lilywhites boss.
“Tiarnan deserves so much credit for the goal. It was a brilliant bit of interplay between himself and Eoghan Osborne. Eoghan did really well today, coming in after not playing for a while.
“We lost a lot of players. We had Stephen O’Donnell and Mark Rossiter, our two most experienced players, missing. John Mountney and Keith Ward missing and then we lost Chris Shields in the game.
“To come up to Derry without four of the team that beat Sligo Rovers in Sligo is very tough but we’ve managed to go out and get a big victory. It was a real team performance.”
Kenny’s squad will again be tested in the coming weeks. Andy Boyle and Richie Towell will miss the game with Cork City at Turner’s Cross on July 19 through suspension after picking up bookings in Derry while Shields limped off with a groin injury in first-half stoppage time.
Kenny did bring in Jordan Keegan and Fran McCaffrey last week but he is unsure whether there will be more additions ahead of the home game with Bohemians this Friday.
“I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see. With Chris Shields getting injured and Andy Boyle facing a suspension, we’re shy on defenders. There’s no doubt about that. We’ll see what we can do.“