Just after Dundalk manager Filippo Giovangoli had completed his final interviews with reporters following the 2-0 league defeat to Sligo at Oriel, he told the departing journalists that supporters might still be very happy at the end of the season.
Straight away I knew he was saying directly that Dundalk could go on and win the FAI Cup, firstly by beating Bohemians away in the quarter-final.
It was strange in a way as Lilywhites supporters should have had a smile on their faces anyway as the Oriel Park men had confirmed their place in the Europa League for next year with Waterford losing to Finn Harps in Ballybofey on the final day.
Harps did them the team a favour given the dethroned champions had played so poorly at home to Sligo.
The other desponding factor that night were the reports that the old squad, assembled by Stephen Kenny, that had so much success were finally going to be moving on. Reports seemed to indicate that Seán Gannon was certainly going, as was Michael Duffy, along with a large cluster of other players.
Chances are Duffy will still be going and could be heading either to Derry City or a club in the UK.
But, from the early part of the week, it seemed Gannon wanted to stay and despite the reports linking him to Pat’s and Rovers, chances are that one of the best-ever Dundalk right-backs is staying.
Bill Hulsizer has begun negotiating contracts with players whose deals are expiring in three weeks’ time. He was negotiating via Zoom from the States.
Thus, as that process got underway, Dundalk started training for their FAI Cup quarter-final.
Most national reporters gave Dundalk little chance as their form was not good going into the tie in Phibsborough.
Dundalk had a week off from the Europa League and this helped. When the teams were released the first thing that jumped off the page was that eight of the starting 11 were signed by Stephen Kenny. Thus, the shadow of the great former boss loomed large over Dalymount.
To be fair, Vinny Perth had brought back Andy Boyle and David McMillan; Boyle returned last season while McMillan was signed during the break this year.
Both players were magnificent on Friday against Bohs. Dundalk won it 4-1 and qualified for their eighth semi-final in nine seasons.
Boyle just had not been hitting the same high performances he had when he left Dundalk four years ago. It’s always very difficult for a player returning to his old club and while Andy has played very well in some games, I was often wondering where the real Andy Boyle was. I saw him on Friday night; he was brilliant.
As for McMillan, he has been scoring key goals in Europe and the FAI Cup even before Friday night. I have to hold my hands up, I thought Perth was wrong to be signing David McMillan while letting Georgie Kelly go. I still believe Georgie should never have been let go.
But on Friday night McMillan answered whatever doubters he had left -- and I was one of them -- with a man of the match performance.
He remains the same quality player he was when leaving in 2017. He already showed this when scoring against Rapid Vienna in the Europa League.
Pat Hoban is out for the rest of the season but supporters need not worry as McMillan can easily fill the gap left by the No9.
My other man of the match was Duffy. Bohs just could not deal with the player’s pace. His first goal came after just 90 seconds and it was both sublime and perfect. Bohs levelled on 14 minutes when Andre Wright scored from a penalty after Chris Shields handled in the box.
Though Dundalk continued to play the type of outstanding, attractive football we all know they are capable of.
Duffy tore the Bohs defence asunder with a great run on 35 minutes. He skipped past Michael Barker before being hacked down in the box. Up stepped the penalty king, David McMillan.This guy just never shows any pressure and he smoothly tucked the ball away to put Dundalk deservingly in front.
Three minutes later came the defining goal. Cameron Dummigan got to the byline and his cross found David McMillan who made no mistake from six yards. It was clear that the ball had gone over the byline when Dummigan got the cross in. TV pictures confirmed this, but the ref was having none of it. He gave the goal and Dundalk were on their way to the last four.
The three-man Dundalk defence worked so well with Boyle, Brian Gartland and Daniel Cleary magnificent. Dummigan and Gannon were top-class too. Indeed, Cameron was man of the match, as awarded by RTÉ. Gary Rogers was in top form in goals and made great saves. Chris Shields was back from suspension and was his usual, impressive self. Stefan Colovic played the way I know he can play while Greg Sloggett ran and ran and never gave up.
Dundalk’s fourth goal came from a player who I think may prove to be the find of the season. Nathan Oduwa has already been singled out in this column as a player of huge talent. Brought on as a sub with three minutes remaining, he got Dundalk’s closing strike, shooting home from close range.
Nathan mesmerised the home defence in the minutes remaining, even if Bohs had gone down to 10 men with 18 minutes remaining when right-back Barker was sent-off after getting a second yellow card.
The elation among the Dundalk players was palpable. And the manager, Giovangoli, deserved the limelight too after the pressures of the Sligo game.
Dundalk play Athlone in the semi-final of the Cup next Sunday. The First Division team have defied all the odds by getting here and Dundalk must treat them with the highest of respect. Hopefully it’s the Lilywhites we saw in Dalymount and not the ones we have seen serving up some terrible performances this season.
Shamrock Rovers scraped past brave Finn Harps in Ballybofey on Friday evening. They were 2-0 down at half-time but Rovers were given three penalties and hit the front. Harps had perfect penalty appeals waved away late on.
Rovers are now at home next Sunday to the winners of the Sligo vs Derry City game in midweek.
Dundalk have already qualified for next season’s Europa league, but they play Rapid Vienna in the Aviva on Thursday. Last time out, it was a 4-3 defeat for Dundalk but this time I think the Lilywhites can win the game and earn the club €580,000. Vienna are beatable going on how they played at home last time out.
It was awful defending that led to the Dundalk defeat, though a repeat of Friday’s form and a similar team choice can get the locals the win.
In the media at the weekend, it was suggested that Dundalk’s poor form in some games this season was attributable to the number of games in such a short space of time.
That does not wash with me, I am afraid. Dundalk are full-time professionals with the highest wage bill for players in the country. Their panel is supposed to be strong enough to cope with the extra matches.
Bohemians brought on a 16-year-old sub, Evan Ferguson, against Dundalk on Friday. Just 16 in October, this young lad had played first-team football at 15 and 14.
It used to be like that at GAA club level. I remember hearing about a 15-year-old playing senior championship for his club. The GAA moved very sensibly on this and it can’t happen any more; players have to be in their U18 year.
I thought the FAI had moved on this as well. Firstly, children should not be playing at adult level. Secondly, I have seen children who have played both soccer and Gaelic football at senior level being left crippled and burned out because everybody was asking them to play for them. I saw sixth years walking out the gates of the school I worked at for years barely able to walk.
I also saw how the extra demands of sport affected their studies, causing a gross underachievement in the Leaving Cert.
I’m all in favour of students playing sport. But parents must take charge of this and ensure they are not playing too much. And too much for me was on Friday night seeing a substitute barely 16 coming on to play for Bohs.
Dundalk have done it in the past too.
It’s a disgrace the FAI have yet to step in and protect these children the same way as the GAA, to their credit, have done.
It also emerged that the former Northern Ireland international, Jim Magilton, will be coming to Oriel as the new Director of Football. Filippo has got his contract to stay on as manager.
Magilton is the elite performance director with the Irish Football Association in the North. He was an apprentice with Distillery before moving to Liverpool as an apprentice. Jim never found a place in the first-team at Anfield and moved on to Oxford, Southampton and Sheffield Wednesday. He made 262 appearances for Ipswich beyond then.
He went on to manage Ipswich and was also a member of the North’s U21 and U23 teams. He was assistant manager at Shamrock Rovers with Michael O’Neill when they won the league on two occasions, 2010 and ’11.
Jim is expected to work on plans for a revamp for Oriel or on a new stadium project and then report back to Peak6. I don’t think that is the job of a Director of Football. It is for a CEO. Perhaps Bill will make a CEO appointment as well?
Anyway, we still await official confirmation of Jim’s appointment and best of luck to him. Hulsizer said on Tuesday last that they were looking at three candidates for Director of Football and within an hour the word came out it was Magilton. Jim was shown around Oriel last Friday week.
Last week, I tweeted that the Drogheda chairman, Conor Hoey, was putting out an early call for FAI funding for a new stadium. I said that these calls never came from Dundalk but I was immediately told they were.
I was given a link attributed to former chairman Mike Treacy where he called for help from the FAI. Right, I was wrong, but the real point I was trying to make was that Drogheda already has a stadium site on the Termonfeckin Road. Dundalk do not have any such site or definite plans for an Oriel revamp.
Treacy sent me a tweet where he said he did a lot to try to get Oriel Park redeveloped. He said he did his best in terms of gaining verbal assurance from the FAI over a support package but that that was never good enough for me. He also alleged the FAI stole Stephen Kenny and opened his tweet by calling me ‘Ger Bear’.
I thought the name he called me was showing me disrespect and also saying that whatever he did at Oriel was never going to be good enough for me.
And the FAI did not ‘steal’ Stephen Kenny. He had an escape clause in his contract that allowed him to go if the Republic of Ireland job came up. It was also in the contract that Dundalk would only be entitled to a small amount of compensation if the escape clause was ever triggered.
Fair play to Treacy for getting a verbal commitment on the redevelopment of Oriel. But I never saw evidence of it. I also know that Mike met at least some Council members on the issue, so fair play to him.
Though, to accuse me of not being happy with whatever he did is nonsensical. It was never really revealed what the then chairman was doing.
But his accusation at me was grossly unfair. I constantly pointed out the need for a new stadium or a revamped Oriel. And I will continue to do so.
Peak6 came in when Dundalk were the richest club in the country. They themselves are hugely rich. Thus, I’m sorry but we should be able to get something.
Launch a funding drive with the community. Dundalk have not done that.
The councillors are a disgrace in their attitude to the club and supporters must tell them they won’t be voting for them in the next election unless they start doing something .
TDs should be told the same. There are five of them in the Dáil. Write to them, lobby them. That’s what the club should be doing. Maybe they are? I don’t know.
The full-time officials at the Council must be told by our political representatives that something must be done. I know the Council have no money but they could sell a site to the club at a reduced price.
How come Louth GAA also got a number of local business people to back their project? That could be done in this case as well. Or maybe we could just see a revamping of Oriel?
The stadium was state of the art in 1966 when redeveloped with floodlights but the need for redevelopment really hit in the mid-90s.
However, the club was bust and only the co-op saved it. Gerry Matthews later prevented its folding and then so did Paul Brown and Andy Connolly.
Peak6 must stand up and be counted now.
The DkIT project is gone when it should never have been let fail. It was turned down in 2010 and again around 2015.
I’m told Peak6 could not do anything as the GAA had already begun their work on getting the DkIT grounds when the Americans took over in January 2018.
I don’t agree with this.The project was still available then. Anyway, it’s forgotten about now as the GAA have it and fair play to them.
I’m told a former CEO did make an appeal for Dundalk to be joint tenants of the new stadium. The claim is the call was turned down and I have no reason to doubt this.
But to get work done on a project it’s not about making calls alone. Dundalk should be at the Council and FAI doors night and day.
KENNY IN HOT WATER
Stephen Kenny got into hot water last week when it emerged that he showed a video as part of a team talk before the recent friendly at Wembley. The Republic of Ireland manager displayed clips which contained goals scored in the past against England. It also contained a montage of the famine and the 1916 Rising.
A small number of people were not happy with what they saw. They reported it to the FAI. According to the Star newspaper on Saturday, Kenny has been cleared.
However, my feeling on this is it should never have happened.
If the North came to the Aviva and showed material of the Orange Order, Cromwell and William of Orange to players as part of a team talk, there would be outrage and rightly so.
What Stephen Kenny did was wrong, silly and could be seen as being politically insensitive by some. But it’s not a dismissible offence. Stephen is a great person. He is kind, understanding and a man of the highest integrity.
Really, I’m glad this can be forgotten about. But there is trouble looming with some senior players. A small number are believed to be unhappy with the manager’s tactics. This can be easily dealt with and I’m sure it will be.
But the fact is, Ireland have scored only one goal in a year and won no games. Kenny has seen his squad devastated with Covid and injuries. But he can and has to get it right in 2021.
Back to Dundalk, I heard or saw a remark that stated some Dundalk supporters would not be happy at the club winning, particularly last Friday night’s Cup tie. They were labelled as being critics or never being happy. I, for one, do not know who these people are.
I criticise but I only want the best for Dundalk. I have black and white blood running through my body; I am Dundalk FC to the corps. I do not believe that any Dundalk supporter would not want to see the club win everything.
It’s Rapid Vienna on Thursday in the group stages of the Europa League. Dundalk can win and earn the club another fortune.
Next Sunday, it’s the Lissywollen Stadium in Athlone. I’m confident Dundalk can make it to the final for the sixth year in a row. But nothing can be taken for granted.
Stay safe everyone, please, And remember, be careful out there.