Dundalk’s performance in Turner’s Cross on Friday night may have received plaudits from plenty of people around the country but Lilywhites boss Stephen Kenny feels his side have still to hit top gear.
It is a frightening assessment from the Dundalk manager. The champions have already amassed six points more than they did at the same stage last season and sit five points clear of second placed Cork City.
A haul of 26 points from a possible 30 available would be seen as a fantastic start by most managers but, for a serial winner like Kenny, it is the four dropped in Limerick and Tallaght that occupy his thoughts.
“We’ve won eight and drawn two of our first 10 games but it could, and should, have been 10 wins in a row. That definitely wouldn’t have flattered us,” he said.
“The win in Cork was another good performance but there are certainly aspects that we can improve on and raise the bar.”
One of those aspects is Dundalk’s performance in the final third. Kenny expects more goals from wingers Daryl Horgan and Darren Meenan - who have one apiece thus far - and is surprised that so few of their 20 league goals to date have come from set pieces. That’s not to say he’s unhappy with his front players, far from it in fact.
“The difference in the team this year is that we have devastating pace going forward. On the counter attack we are lightning quick and I think the attacking five players are all capable of getting a high volume of goals.
“What we need to improve on are things like the quality and speed of our passing when we get into dangerous areas.”
One of the stars of Dundalk’s win on Leeside was David McMillan. The centre-forward led the line brilliantly, winning the penalty for Dundalk’s second goal and crashing a superb half volley off the upright soon after.
“David gave a really brilliant display of how to play as a central striker. His first touch and his play with his back to goal has really improved and, at 26, I think he’ll only get better and better,” said Kenny.
A player who seems to be at the peak of his powers at the moment is Richie Towell. The midfielder took his tally to nine for the season with Dundalk’s two goals in Turner’s Cross and Kenny lavished praise on his ‘talisman’.
“Richie has star quality, there is no doubt about that,” he said.
“In our last two games at Turner’s Cross he has scored goals and been hugely influential. His attitude is to be the best and he has been outstanding for us this season. He has scored some fantastic goals and he is so important to us, he’s the player that every other team really fears.”
A common theme of Kenny’s post match interviews is his refusal to get carried away by Dundalk’s blistering start to the campaign. The 43-year-old foresees a tricky summer ahead when Champions League and Setanta Cup games will eat away at his side’s energy levels. With that in mind, the points that Dundalk have already accumulated could be invaluable.
“There’s nobody here going to clap themselves on the back after 10 games,” he stated.
“We have plenty of work to do and a lot of competitions ahead of us. The volume of games will increase and that obviously means we will pick up injuries. The players’ dedication and our planning has meant we have suffered very few thus far but when you’re playing three games in a week it’s inevitable so we have tough challenges ahead.”
Kenny’s mind has already turned to Bray Wanderers, who visit Oriel Park in the final game of the first series next week. The game has been put back to Bank Holiday Monday, May 4 with a 3pm kick-off as it will be televised live on Setanta Sports.
“That’s a bit of an inconvenience for us,” said Kenny.
“Ideally we want to play every seven days but now we have no game for 10 days and then two in the space of six. But look, it suits Setanta and we will re-arrange and plan accordingly.”
After a spell which saw them win in Sligo and at home to Limerick, The Seagulls have lost their way in recent weeks, falling to defeat in their last two league games. The most recent of those was a 5-0 defeat at home to Galway United on Saturday evening but Kenny is wary of the Wicklow club, especially after their results against Dundalk last season.
“We only took four points from nine against Bray last year. There are no formalities in this league, you only have to look at Limerick’s results with us and with Shamrock Rovers. It’s a marathon with 33 games and we are only one third of the way through. You can take noth ing for granted,” he added.