17 Aug 2022

The Commentary Box: Plenty of links between Dundalk and Derry City through the decades

The Commentary Box: Plenty of links between Dundalk and Derry City through the decades

Former Dundalk and Derry City managers Stephen Kenny and Jim Mcloughlin. The duo led both clubs to great success during their respective tenures in charge. (Credit: Sportsfile)

With the new season kicking off on 18th February, serious football will be the order of the day at Oriel Park as Dundalk will clash with Derry City at home in the first game of the new season.

The Lilywhites will face cup finalists Bohemians the following Friday night and then they have Finn Harps at home on the 28th of February at Oriel Park. Dundalk can have no complaints about their opening three fixtures as they are all equally winnable games.

But it’s amazing to think that the season is only weeks away and that the serious preparations, which have been ongoing since the end of the last season in November, now go into a higher gear from this week on.

This time last year Bill Hulsizer was making all the mistakes. I have written so much about that time which left Dundalk decimated and even with a miraculous effort from Vinny Perth and his team they only just confirmed their premier Division status with three games to spare.

This year it’s all change at Oriel. The club has much more stability with local owners. Manager Vinny Perth is gone. I have said that I believe the new owners made a big mistake letting Vinny go.

However new owners always bring in their own man and in Stephen O’Donnell they have chosen very astutely. Stephen is a very young manager and in many ways remains unproven.

But with the backroom staff, he has wisely chosen and the way he has been building up the squad since day one, I have no worries that Stephen will bring success to Oriel.

I honestly believe that Stephen will have Dundalk back into Europe again through the Europa Conference League this coming season. I believe Dundalk can do so via finishing in the top three.

Stephen said when appointed that his main objective was to stabilize the club on the field next season. He was very optimistic when talking to me that it will be a good season for the club.

But the new Dundalk boss was very realistic as well and would not set concrete targets in his first year in charge at Oriel. The word stability, both on and off the pitch, was the key message from the new Dundalk boss.

Dundalk and Derry Links

When the season kicks off in five weeks’ time, Dundalk will face a Derry City team that will be a major force next season. Manager Ruaidhri Higgins took over as manager midway through the last season and guided his side to fourth place in the league.

There have always been close connections between Dundalk and Derry City, going back to the 1970’s. The great Jim McLoughlin is a Derry man through and through. Dundalk brought Jim back to Ireland from the UK In 1974.

McLoughlin brought unprecedented success to Oriel winning three leagues and three cups as well as legendary runs in Europe. He had a number of key Derry men who both played for him and one was also his assistant manager for a time.

Hilary Carlisle was the wonder striker who brought the league and cup double to Oriel in 1979 along with his other teammates. Pete Mahon had a short time in goals when Richie Blackmore was out for a short spell at the start of the season 1976/77.

Dundalk won the cup that year for the first time in 19 years when they beat Limerick in the cup final at Dalymount. Hilary Carlisle won the league for Dundalk in the season 1981/82 when his header to the net in the last game of the season in the Sand at St Mel’s Park brought the league title to Oriel for the third time under Jim McLoughlin.

As already said Tony O’Doherty who played a key role in getting Derry into the League of Ireland in the mid 80’s, played at Dundalk for Jim McLoughlin at the end of the 1970’s. Tony was also assistant manager for a short period.

Seanie McLaughlin was also a key player in Jim’s league winning team in 1975/76. Seanie died tragically in a road crash in the off season and was due to return to Oriel for the following season. He was aged 20 at the most. He was from Derry.

Jim McLaughlin went on to Shamrock Rovers and brought them their most successful period in their history in the 1980’s. The Derry man returned to Foyleside in the late 80’s when they were just getting off the ground.

Dundalk met Derry in the cup final of 1988. Dundalk won the cup and the double that season. But Jim McLoughlin was to win the Premier Division, the FAI Cup and the League Cup a year later. The elusive treble has never been done since or before.

Dundalk nearly did it in 2019 when they won the league and the League Cup under Vinny Perth. They lost the cup final by the butt of the post in a penalty shootout against Shamrock Rovers.

Ruaidhri Higgins

The connections between the clubs have continued throughout the decades. In November 2012 Stephen Kenny came to Oriel. His success has been again well documented here. He brought former Derry City player Ruaidhri Higgins to Oriel.

Kenny managed Derry on two different occasions and brought them trophies galore just as he was to do at Oriel. Kenny made Higgins his match analyst when he finished playing. Higgins played a key role in the Kenny management team.

Ruaidhri became assistant manager with Dundalk after Kenny left. In 2020 when the pandemic hit, he had helped Dundalk to a great start as Vinny Perth’s assistant.

I interviewed him for the last time in his capacity with a Dundalk connection when the Oriel Park men hammered Finn Harps in Ballybofey. That was to be the last game for two months as the pandemic hit and all sport was cancelled.

Ruaidhri Higgins, the likeable Derry man joined Stephen Kenny’s backroom international senior team and his departure was a major loss to Dundalk. As stated above he became manager of Derry City sometime into season 2021.

Amazingly Derry like Dundalk were in the bottom four of the league at the time. City went on a good run under Higgins and sealed their place in Europe by beating Dundalk at Oriel in the last game of the season.

But Higgins proved himself to be a sharp operator on the transfer market during last season. And remarkably he swooped for his 2022 squad in mid-July 2021. Higgins got a major coup when in a pre-contract deal Patrick McEleney was on his way out of Oriel at the end of the 2021 season.

Patrick, a Derry man through and through had helped Dundalk to unprecedented success. He has always been regarded as one of the best midfielders to play for Dundalk.

Ironically McEleney was injured shortly after it emerged that he was returning home when a terrible tackle on him by a Derry player at the Brandywell finished his season prematurely by four months.

A month later came the news that Michael Duffy was returning home. He too had signed a pre contract deal with Ruaidhri Higgins. This was the master stroke by the former Dundalk assistant manager. Michael was the most talented winger seen in Oriel for years.

It was a massive blow to Dundalk to lose Michael. He played on for the remainder of the season and was one of the key reasons why Dundalk avoided the drop.

But when it was announced he would be leaving Oriel I jokingly referred to Derry as the Magpies as they had swooped and got two of Dundalk’s key players in mid-season for the following season.

Ruaidhri Higgins did nothing wrong by capturing Dundalk’s best two players. It was all perfectly legal and above board. But the Derry man was not finished. He signed Will Patching and Cameron Dummigan when the 2021 season was over.

Thus, the connection between the two clubs has been remarkable. Now it’s Derry who have the Dundalk contingent. But that will change in the future.

Interestingly Jim McLoughlin has settled in Dundalk and has been living in Blackrock since 1974. So the proud Derry man stayed in Dundalk and here he will stay. And the great Stephen Kenny has also settled in Dundalk, also in Blackrock.

The 2022 Squad

Derry will be very strong next season and could be the team to end Shamrock Rovers reign as champions. But Stephen O’Donnell’s side will have nothing to fear from any team. And indeed, they could well be the surprise packet of the season.

They have re-signed David McMillan, Peter Cherrie and Greg Sloggett. John Mountney has returned from Pat’s as of course so has Robbie Benson. John Martin has signed from Waterford and is a great player.

Keith Ward is back with the club again. Sam Bone joins the club from Pat’s and is a very good signing. Daniel Cleary has of course re-signed for Dundalk along with prolific goal scorer Pat Hoban. Stephen O’Donnell has been strengthening his midfield by signing UCD captain Paul Doyle. He is seen as a magnificent capture.

Darragh Leahy’s re-signing was great news for Dundalk. He was so impressive for Dundalk in Europe in mid-season after coming back from a bad injury.

And then on Saturday came the great news that Brian Gartland has been re-signed. He is spending his 10th year at Oriel. Brian has been pivotal to all of Dundalk’s successes. He has been hit with a couple of bad injuries.

But the man has such great grit, determination, and confidence that he has bounced back once more and will be ready for the new season. Brian picked up a dreadful injury in last season’s President’s Cup final against Shamrock Rovers.

To many it seemed like a career ending injury as he missed the entire season. He was a magnificent asset even last season as he encouraged many players in the background. How many games Brian will play of course is up for grabs. He may well play the entire season.

I’m sure that’s his and the club’s intention. The Dundalk centre half will be a good asset to the team on and off the field. Thus Dundalk have a good squad already. And there are more to come.

It will be interesting to see who Stephen O’Donnell brings in as his number one keeper. Former Waterford keeper Brian Murphy had been linked to the job. However, it now seems likely the manager may well look cross channel for his number one keeper.

But whoever it is the second keeper will have stiff competition from Peter Cherrie who proved in the last 10 games of last season that he is a very safe pair of hands in goals.

Thus, in the opening League game Dundalk will prove stiff competition for one of the title favourites Derry City. An away game to Bohemians follows and then a home game to Finn Harps.

Do not be surprised if Stephen O’Donnell’s side take at least seven points from nine in their opening three league games.

We are of course in the middle of another high wave of people becoming ill from Covid 19. The latest variant is reporting 20,000 new cases daily. It’s likely that the number is much more as it rips through our community.

A strict limiting of supporters in the opening League games of the season seems a certainty. The limits are there at the moment for all other sports. Barring a miracle, it seems likely that these limits will remain in operation for another month at least.

As factors improve, I’m sure that we will be able to see a full return of supporters in due course. All league games will be televised live once more on LOI TV. But clubs will need to be compensated for loss of gate revenue.

Last season and the season before the clubs were able to survive the lack of crowds. Under Peak6 the players were all paid their full wages. Under the new owners and in conjunction with all the other clubs in the league I’m sure the issue will be sorted.

League Structures

The new ten team league make up is an issue I have already brought up. Five of the teams are in Dublin. Two more are in Leinster. There are two in Ulster and one in Connacht.

The Leinster teams won’t be complaining. The farthest Dundalk will travel is 107 miles to Derry, Finn Harps and Sligo. The most southerly club in the Premier Division is Shamrock Rovers. Thus Dundalk will be travelling a distance of just 55 miles south for the entire season.

It’s a disgrace there are no teams from Munster in the Premier Division. Waterford’s relegation to the First Division has taken care of that. So the League has no teams from our main cities apart from Dublin.

Our second city Cork sees them languishing in the First Division. Limerick also languish there in the guise of Treaty United. Galway are also in Division one. The FAI must do something about this disgraceful situation.

The reversion back to a 10-team league has been an utter failure. It is not a league of Ireland when five of the club’s out of 10 in the Premier Division are from Dublin and two others are from Leinster, one just 25 miles from Dublin and the other 52 miles.

The FAI must go back to a 12-team league at the minimum. They must also waken up to the fact that many teams are dying in the graveyard of the first Division. And with some in the FAI even suggesting a 3rd Division it displays a total lack of comprehension of the trouble the domestic league is in.

Stephen Kenny

On the international front some on the FAI directors have been a disgrace in opposing Stephen Kenny getting a new contract for the Euros. The most they are willing to do is to extend his current contract for the last two games of the Nations League next November.

Kenny’s contract runs out this summer after the third nations league game in July. Stephen has come up against opposition from what I would call the conservative or aristocracy within the FAI board.

Kenny himself is confident he will get a new contract for the Euros and that he will have it soon and well before the Nations League in June. But as long as there is doubt, the conservatives will push the idea of just extending his contract until next November and reassessing the situation then.

Some of the opposition is coming from ex internationals of the Charlton era and before. Sadly, World Cup hero Packie Bonner has expressed hesitation over Kenny’s new contract.

It would appear he would want to wait until next November before it’s decided if Stephen Kenny gets his new contract. Bonner is on the Board of Directors who will decide the former Dundalk manager’s fate.

TV pundit and ex international Liam Brady is not keen on Stephen Kenny either. In the media there are also some who do not want the Irish boss. There are a couple of senior members of the Irish media who are opposed to Stephen getting his new contract as well before November.

The word on the ground Is that there are enough on the FAI board who will give Stephen his new contact in the coming weeks. But it may well be close.

Saint Patrick’s Athletic, to their credit wrote a letter to the board of the FAI calling for the issuing of a new contract for the manager. They appealed to all other League clubs to do the same.

I would hope that other League of Ireland clubs would do so. If they have not done so yet they should do it straight away.

Final Thoughts

Finally, just a word on a former manager of Dundalk Sean McCaffery. Sean was boss at Oriel from December 2011 to July 2012. Last Friday was the 4th anniversary of his passing. Sean was a terrific international manager at underage and schoolboy level.

His brief experience managing Dundalk sadly did not go as well for him. He left the club halfway through the 2012 season. But he was a very nice, courteous man and was always known as such around Oriel Park and beyond.

He died at far too young an age and was a huge loss to the underage and international schoolboy section of Irish soccer.

A happy new year to all our readers. I think Dundalk can have a very good 2022 and so can the supporters. Take care of yourselves. And please be careful out there.

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