Dundalk caretaker boss Darius Kierans has “full belief” that his players can bounce back from a “sickening” and “devastating” defeat by Louth rivals Drogheda United at the weekend when they entertain relegation rivals UCD at Oriel Park this Friday night.
Kierans could only watch as his side conceded two late goals to throw away a 2-1 lead against his former club, as their best performance of the season ultimately yielded no return and left them four points adrift at the bottom of the Premier Division.
Another victory for UCD – who have now won three of their last four games – on Friday would almost certainly consign Dundalk to the two-legged relegation playoff in November.
However, speaking on Sunday night, Kierans said the mood in the camp was a positive one and that his side will be confident going into battle with the in-form Students.
“We were all devastated on Friday,” the 33-year-old said. “It was a sickening way to lose any game, especially after the effort the boys put in. I thought we played very well. We went out with a plan and it worked particularly well, for 87 minutes.
“The intensity of the first half-hour was always going to be difficult to maintain but I thought we were dealing with it pretty well in the second half and we looked very dangerous on the break.
“To lose in the manner that we did was gut-wrenching for the boys. They were all devastated after the game. We were devastated for the fans as well who were great again.
“Losing to our rivals makes it a lot harder to take, but there is no point in feeling sorry for ourselves. We have to pick ourselves up. We trained on Sunday morning, we lifted the boys up and there was a good atmosphere. We just have to go again now for a massive game on Friday night.
“When Bray equalised (against Dundalk three weeks ago), it was a similar scenario. We’re not getting the bounce of the ball but you have to keep going and you have to keep believing that it will bounce for you, that you will get the luck and you will get it at the right times.
“I have full belief in the players. There is no doubt that naivety probably cost us the game on Friday but it’s also naivety that can help you bounce back from something like that.
“We have a lot of young players and I don’t think they’ll have any problem bouncing back. The boys are looking forward to Friday’s game and they know the importance of it.”
Kierans agreed that it was Dundalk’s best performance of the year, but he lamented the lack of experience shown by top scorer Gary Shanahan which led to Drogheda’s equaliser just three minutes from the end.
“For me, the performance was excellent,” Darius said. “Nobody has gone to United Park and done what we did to them for the first half-hour. I thought we could have been four or five up.
“We knew that they would come out at us. Mick (Cooke) has Drogheda very well organised and they grind out results.“For their second goal, Gary was breaking and, to be fair to him, if he was more experienced he might have just played the ball down the line or played it into Michael Rafter.
“He tried to go by Derek Prendergast, and if he had got past him it was 4-v-1 in our favour because we were breaking at pace and I think we might have got the fourth. We didn’t and they got the second and I think that killed us.
“It was an inch-perfect ball from 60 or 70-yards and Derek Foran just missed it and Peter Hynes put it away. It’s difficult for the boys to take a loss like that – you’re talking about inches. But I think we’ll bounce back. The boys just want to get back onto the pitch.”
Kierans handed a start to Stephen Maher following his welcome return to the club after a ten-month absence. But while pleased with Maher’s performance, the manager was even happier with the contribution of another of his recent midfield additions, Mark O’Brien.
“I thought Stephen and Mark had the upper hand in midfield,” he said. “For me, Mark was the pick of the four central midfielders. I thought he did really well against his old club.
“He worked extremely hard and broke up a lot of play. Paul Crowley and Eric Foley are dogged players and I thought Mark won that battle.
“Stephen gave us a different dimension looking to break forward into the box. He probably tired late on but, at the same time, I thought we were still winning the battle in there. He did quite well and I think he’ll improve with games again.”
Dundalk now face into a weekend where they play UCD at home on Friday and then champions elect Sligo Rovers away on Monday.
Ahead of the game in Drogheda, midfielder John Mountney had spent the night in hospital with nose bleeds while defender Paul Whelan was suffering with tonsillitis. Paul Walsh and Stephen McDonnell were also nursing knocks.
Kierans is hopeful that all four will be fully fit this weekend, with Mayo native Mountney due to miss out on the trip to Sligo due to suspension.
“There are still 24 points to play for and we’re capable of beating anyone,” Kierans insisted. “I would have taken a very bad performance on Friday night and a 1-0 win.
“But, at the same time, you have to keep believing. We’re all working hard and training hard. Everyone in the club is working hard. You have to believe if you’re doing the right things, creating chances and playing in the right way that it’s only a matter of time before it comes.
“UCD don’t change the way they play, whether Paul Corry is there or not. They will have someone else that will slot in. Paul O’Conor has been excellent with Corry in central midfield in the last couple of seasons.
“But they’ll play the same way; they’ll play attacking and pass the ball. They love to play through the thirds, but they leave themselves very open as well. By all accounts, it could have been a high-scoring game between UCD and Bray.”
Meanwhile, Kierans confirmed that former Bournemouth and Bohemians defender Shaun Maher will be helping out the club in a coaching capacity, with the 34-year-old currently on his UEFA A-Licence course.