So the curtain came down on Dundalk’s league season with a 2-0 defeat to Sligo Rovers at Oriel Park.
The result seemed to mirror a bizarre season in that the club qualified for the group stages of the Europa League, yet at home in their own league surrendered their title so limply that it was both sad and pathetic.
Yet what has happened on the field of play has only been a reflection of what has happened off the pitch.
Bill Hulsizer, as chairman, was a unique appointment, indeed; that has been repeated over and over again in this and many other newspaper columns.
The club lost Vinny Perth as head coach after Dundalk were easily knocked out of the Champions League to a side they should have beaten over one leg, Celje of Slovenia. Rumour has it that Vinny was already gone days before the qualifier.
Domestic results had been poor since the restart, after the Covid outbreak, with a defeat to Bohemians and a home draw to St. Pat’s. Dundalk did advance in the FAI Cup and had a dramatic 2-2 draw with Waterford in the league. That was to be Perth’s last game in charge domestically.
The European exit was followed up by the announcement Vinny was leaving the club despite the fact that the Europa League beckoned.
ALL NOT WELL
By this stage all did not seem well on or off the pitch.
Defeat to Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds following Perth’s departure was followed up by the appointment of Filippo Giovangoli as head coach. The likeable Italian, along with his fellow Italian, Guissepe Rossi, were immediate hits among some.
For me, I believed he had been handed a poisoned chalace. He was told to get Dundalk to the group stages of the Europa League and to qualify for Europe next season; and he would be reappointed as manager for next season.
Well that he did deliver. But reflect on his league record over the nine games he took charge off and one may look at his reign differently. Over those games he lost three, won three and drew three; two of the losses were at Oriel.
Their proud two-year home unbeaten league and Cup record was lost when new champions Shamrock Rovers beat them 4-0. The side picked that night was chosen with Europe in mind four days later, but saw a very weakened team give up any forlorn hope they had of retaining their league title.
Giovangoli seemed to take a bigger interest in the Europa League than he did with domestic competition. He did a marvellous job getting Dundalk to the group stages in games that were not easy.
The success will bring in over €3.3 million to the club.
However, things have not gone so well in the group stages when Dundalk could at least have got two draws. They have lost every one of the games.
Last Monday night, following the game, there seemed to be a strange cloud hanging over Oriel. There were no smiles or laughter among the players having qualified for next season’s Europa League. It was understandable as it was done with the help of Finn Harps. Harps beat Waterford in Ballybofey which meant Dundalk did not even need a result against Sligo to qualify for Europe.
But the stark reality post the defeat was that this was the last league game the players left from the Stephen Kenny era will play for Dundalk all together.
The club have 18 players out of contract. Many of them will not return off their own bat after they have seen the way the club is going under Peak6 and the current boss.
Monday night’s post-match press conference with the manager seemed a bit bizarre in some ways.
He blamed the poor result and defeat to Sligo on the fact that Dundalk’s players were being asked to play three games a week. The Dundalk boss also said at least two of his players in the first 11 were carrying injuries and another pair on the bench had knocks.
He said his team were very tired and would use the two weeks free of games to recover for the Cup quarter-final against Bohemians in Dublin next Friday.
DOES NOT WASH
But the excuse his team were tired just does not wash as a reason for Dundalk only getting one point from their last three league games.
They are a full-time, professional side and the players they have were signed to cope with the European games not effecting their domestic form.
But the fact is quite a number of the players Dundalk signed in the close season last year were simply not good enough.
Some were very injury prone and missed many games. Others were not good enough. Add to that how the midfield was greatly weakened with the departures of Robbie Benson and Jamie McGrath.
They were just simply never replaced properly, no disrespect to the players that replaced them. Add to that, the money many of the new players are on seems fairly exorbitant.
But now to the question of next season. Quite a number of players will leave through their own decisions. Others will go because they will be told they are surplus to requirements.
Two players I fear most that may well depart are Seán Gannon and Michael Duffy.
Gannon would be a massive loss. He has been one of the best players and defenders Dundalk have ever had.
But he has not been given a fair run by the current manager. In and out of the side on a weekly basis, particularly since Europe started, has bound to have unsettled him.
Seán is a right full. Yet he has been dropped on occasions, slotted in to right midfield and even up front when Dundalk were chasing a game.
The Dubliner has been linked to the champions, Shamrock Rovers, on an almost annual end of season basis. But there have been reports in the past weeks that he may be joining former Dundalk manager Stephen O’Donnell, who is now manager of St. Patrick’s Athletic.
He would be a terrific signing for any club and Peak6 must do everything in their power to keep him.
Duffy also looks a certainty to be on the move. If the reports are right he is believed to be linking back up again with his home town club, Derry City. Derry are reportedly ready to move heaven and earth to get their man.
And the reports circulating at the end of last week was that they had got their man. True or untrue, in either Gannon or Duffy’s case, hopefully they’re not true.
But I think you can take it that the story is true. And if I were a betting man where Gannon is going it would be Pat’s.
Jordan Flores has already indicated he is not returning while others may follow.
The wage bill at Oriel is believed to be the largest in the country. One player signed on a two-year contract last season is believed to be on a weekly wage of at least €2,500.
Dundalk must cut their playing budget as they just have not been getting a return on the vast amount they have been paying out on wages.
When one thinks that Sligo let all off their players go during the first Covid outbreak and Dundalk, to their credit, paid all of their players fully right through the crisis. Yet Sligo easily overcame Dundalk at Oriel last Monday and also in Connacht a few months back.
Gary Rogers has been on a one-year contract extension this season. The 39-year-old, who has been a great servant to the club, has, in my opinion, been treated unfairly by the manager by moving him in and out of the side since the Europa League began.
The constant in and out of the first-team seems to have unsettled the big Meath man on the pitch. This, I believe, was the reason for the gaffe he made in the Sligo game.
You do not have to rotate keepers in the same way you do other players.
The Dundalk boss said he left Gary out of the team against Rapid Vienna because he was mentally tired. This is absolute nonsense.
It would not surprise me to see Aaron McCarey being kept on. But it must not be as number one keeper. Dundalk need a new number one keeper. That won’t be easy to find.
I just have not seen anything from Aaron that would give me the confidence of putting him in as number one keeper next season.
Giovangoli says he is staying on in Oriel next season. While saying his contract was in a computer, the Dundalk boss indicated that the club would be bringing in a Director of Football next season.
Peak6 have already identified their man. He is working in the English Premier League at the present time.
The Dundalk boss says the idea of a Director of Football at Oriel would be a great asset to him and that he would have no problem working alongside such a person.
Giovangoli said that he would have a technical input in to who to keep for next season and who to let go but in the end the ultimate decision was going to be made by the owners.
It’s also emerged that Peak6 have at large number of people working away in the background, advising them on all things football at Oriel.
It’s a good idea in theory.
One of the key advisers is well-known and would have a non-footballing background at senior level. He would be well experienced in dealing with all types of local matters and does have a background in soccer at a more junior level. But sure then, so have many.
The season took a dramatic twist late in the week.
It’s emerged that the eligibility of Finn Harps‘ Shane McEleney to play in Monday’s win over Waterford is being queried. The defender picked up a fifth booking against St. Pat’s on October 28.
In normal circumstances a suspension would have begun at the start of the week.
The FAI decided not to ban McEleney as the disciplinary committee applied an effective from the date of November 10, which was Tuesday, to suspend players. They said the decision from November 10 was to be imposed after the final series of Premier Division games.
In effect, the Harps game would have been played on the previous Friday when McEleney would have been able to play. The final league programme was not played by order from the FAI until last Monday, November 9. The suspension would normally have kicked in at the start of the week but because games were put back until Monday night it was decided suspensions would not begin until Tuesday.
The implications are enormous. Waterford have raised the issue. Their defeat to Harps saw the Donegal men stay up and put Shelbourne into the play-offs. If an appeal was upheld it would result in Waterford getting three points and claiming third place, also allowing them to leapfrog Dundalk and allow the club from the south east to take the automatic Europa League slot.
However, all clubs were informed that the suspensions would not be enforced for Monday until the following day, thus giving Harps the green light to play McEleney.
Should Waterford appeal, it’s hard to see it going anywhere.
Following on from that Shelbourne were relegated just a year after returning to the top-flight. Longford Town are back in the big time after beating Shels in the promotion/relegation play-off on Sunday.
Former Liverpool and Spurs goalkeeping legend Ray Clemence passed away at the weekend. The Liverpool Titan made his debut for the Pool on September 20, 1969, at Oriel Park in the Inter City Fairs Cup, now known as the Europa League.
Liverpool had won the first leg 10-0 at Anfield. They won the second leg 4-0 at Oriel. Dundalk lost 14-0 on aggregate. It was their heaviest loss in European football and still is to this day.
Things are not going well for Ireland at the moment. They went down 1-0 to Wales in the European Nations League. Ireland have yet to score a win under Stephen Kenny’s tutelage.
I’m sure the former Dundalk boss will get it right on the pitch but already some of the media are asking is he the right guy for Ireland. My answer is yes he is. But I will admit he has to start getting his team scoring and winning. If he does not some of the media and supporters will call for his head.
That would be ridiculous. Stephen is an excellent manager and if given time will make Ireland a force again. But he may not be given time. That is why Ireland must start scoring and winning soon.
Dundalk play Bohemians in the FAI Cup quarter-final next Friday night.
They have a good chance if the manager plays the right team. And this he must.
A win over Bohs would put Dundalk in the semi-final where they would play Athlone Town away. The Bohs game will be very difficult; Bohs are favourites. They beat Dundalk in the league at Dalymount and drew with them at Oriel.
Anyway, it’s the end of another week. Stay safe everyone and look after yourselves.