22 May 2022

The Commentary Box: Lilywhites finally back in the right direction as attacking improves

The Commentary Box: Lilywhites finally back in the right direction as attacking improves

Dundalk players in a huddle before their SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match with Sligo Rovers at Oriel Park. (Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile)

Dundalk boss Stephen O’Donnell says he was very happy with the way his side-controlled Friday night’s game against Sligo Rovers. Skip says he was delighted with the work rate of his team.

This pleased him more than the key times Dundalk struck for the winning goals on 34 and 43 minutes to put his side 2-0 in front at to the break.

The Patrick Hoban -Daniel Kelly double act is becoming a regular occasion at Oriel Park. The two also scored for Dundalk in their win over UCD just two weeks previously.

O’Donnell was happy with the way Dundalk played on the front foot in stark contrast to how they played against Pat’s the week before in a game which ended in a scoreless draw in Dublin.

The Galway native stated what pleased him most was that he was seeing what his side can do in training manifesting itself on the pitch in games and results. That was certainly the way on Friday.

Nathan Shepperd had an outstanding game, pulling off some fine saves throughout the game. For me he was once more man of the match.

He was caught for the Sligo goal late in the game from Max Mata. At that stage, the home side only needed to see out the remaining minutes to collect the three precious points.

Dundalk lost Dan Williams and Robbie Benson through injury. Williams certainly seemed to have taken a bad enough knock. He left Oriel after the game on crutches. 

Unlike last week against Pat’s, Dundalk had at least seven shots on target for Friday’s game as opposed to nothing in the previous game against Pat’s. They also forced at least six corners on Friday night in comparison to nothing against Pat’s.

Despite the bare stats against Pat’s the previous week, O’Donnell’s troops still came away with a point in Dublin. Stephen Bradley was immense for Dundalk again, having two efforts well saved by Sligo keeper Ed McGinty. He also created two goals.

It was Dundalk full back Darragh Leahy’s birthday. He forced the best out of Ed McGinty in the first half. Leahy was outstanding in the game, as was Lewis Macari.

Aiden Keena nearly scored for Sligo after just 30 seconds following a mistake by Mark Connolly. Pat Hoban in reply put Stephen Bradley in. His effort was well saved by Ed McGinty.

Daniel Kelly came close for Dundalk on 12 minutes with a superb glancing header. Karl O’Sullivan’s shot was saved superbly by Nathan Shepperd as the so far evenly contested game continued.

Daniel Kelly was in top form as his glancing header seemed bound for the net but was somehow saved by McGinty. Pat Hoban was involved in many of the build ups in Dundalk’s attacks. On so many occasions, he dropped back to ignite the engine room in midfield.

Hoban was well placed for Stephen Bradley’s cross on 34 minutes. The Dundalk striker had the ball in the net only yards out from goals. He drove the ball to the net, drilling it spectacularly home to give Dundalk the break-through.

Six minutes later Greg Sloggett nearly made it two when his driving effort was saved really well by Ed McGinty. But the second goal came on 43 minutes when Stephen Bradley put Daniel Kelly
the clear in the box 10 yards out. Kelly drilled the ball home with the utmost precision.

Dundalk lost Robbie Benson for what seemed to be a hamstring injury on 21 minutes. Joe Adams came on for him. This was a serious blow for Dundalk. Dan Williams was lost to injury on 60 minutes in a 50-50 tackle. The Dundalk man came out of the tackle the worst.

Sligo got a goal back late in the game on 89 minutes when a Paddy Kirk throw in caught the Dundalk defence on the hop. Max Mata’s header ended up in the net. But there was to be no way back for Sligo as the goal was too little too late.

Last season Dundalk had serious difficulties with their then keeper Allesio Abibi conceding far too many goals. This season there are no such difficulties with Nathan Shepperd being an outstanding keeper.

It was Peter Cherrie who saved Dundalk when he returned between the sticks at the latter end of the year. His presence saw the lilywhites win seven out of their last eight home games, helping to lift the club to 6th, well clear of the relegation zone.

Dundalk have to be very happy with the home attendance at Oriel this season. They are getting crowds of nearly 3,000 a game at Oriel.

Daniel Kelly

After the game Daniel Kelly told me he was very happy with his own goal and overall performance. Daniel said the team have been training very well and that the players all know their movements.

He spoke about their movements off the ball which gave Sligo serious problems throughout the night. He says he was delighted with his own performance, but that the main priority was that they got the three points and played so well.

The Dubliner felt that the only negative he got out of the night was that maybe the side should have got more goals. The team had worked their socks off in the past week in order to start turning their many draws into wins.

Daniel says the standards in training are so high that they should be winning most games. He says Dundalk are a new team. However he was adamant this should not be an excuse for not getting more victories.

The winger added that going forward supporters will start seeing the best of Dundalk. Daniel said the two goals from Friday night’s game were all worked on from the training ground.

Bradley’s connection with Hoban for the first goal and Bradley again to Kelly on 43 minutes for the second goal had all been worked out well in advance on the training ground.

Daniel has been plagued with injury over the past couple of seasons. Saying he was thrilled to get the second goal; he is hopeful he can have an injury free season this year. There is no reason why he can’t have a terrific season.

He went on to say that the midfield and defence were great against Sligo.  He also says the forwards are excellent. The young Dubliner says any good team must be built around a sound defence and a strong midfield. Dundalk have that.

He felt Sligo getting a goal late in the game was harsh on his side, as the men from the north-west in his eyes rarely threatened Dundalk. He says Andy Boyle’s heading in the final minutes of the game were fundamental in keeping Sligo at bay.

Daniel says Friday’s game with Shelbourne will be tough, but that he is confidant Dundalk will go out and show they can get the three points from Damian Duff’s side.

Andy Boyle

Dundalk centre half Andy Boyle told me that the sides performance was much better than the previous week’s scoreless draw with Pat’s.

He says it was a good three points to pick up against Sligo, but that the team had to get ready for the Shamrock Rovers game played last night and the visit of Damien Duff’s side Shelbourne to Oriel next Friday.

Andy says that he is building up a good partnership with Mark Connolly in the centre of defence and that the keeper and other two full backs were top class.

The wily centre half also noted that the two goals for Dundalk were so well taken and that their creation was total quality from Stephen Bradley.

Andy says it will be a very competitive league and that any team can beat any team. He added that Dundalk must just look after their own games and not be worrying about other teams around them.

Boyle noted that the atmosphere is great among the players and that as the weeks go by, the players are performing together as a team.

The gaffer praised the large amount of supporters who turned out in their droves at Oriel for every home game so far this year. Andy says they play a massive role in the atmosphere now existing in Oriel.

He says supporters play a huge role in motivating the team and stressed that Friday’s game will be massive against Shelbourne.

He felt Dundalk should have beaten Shelbourne at Tolka Park a few weeks ago and the team looks forward to reversing that drawn game to a win. Andy says at this stage, the club’s aim is to win every game against every team they play.

European Boycott?

Meanwhile more details of Brian Gartland’s book One Last Shot, which chronicles his entire footballing career have emerged.

Author of Brian’s book, Mark McCadden, says that Dundalk players were prepared to go on strike and boycott last August’s Europa Conference first leg against Vitesse Arnhem at Tallaght.

Its emerged just how close the squad was to refusing to fulfil the fixture in a row over bonus payments. This was when relations between the players and Peak6 reached its lowest point.

Brian discusses his role in ending the stand-off as he continued his recovery from a cruciate ligament injury. Gartland discloses that it was the third year running preparations for Europe were overshadowed by wranglings over bonuses.

But last August’s row was seen as the final straw. Players were prepared to risk the wrath of Dundalk supporters and UEFA by staying away from Tallaght. Brian confirmed that this time the players were ready to hit the nuclear button.

When it was getting to the point where the players were due to collect a fraction of past bonuses, Gartland was the person who negotiated with then club chairman Bill Hulsizer as the situation worsened.

With the situation unresolved, Brian was on his way to hospital to collect his wife who had just given birth to their new baby Jesse. As he was on his way Brian contacted Bill. He spent a full hour on the phone to the chairman which included half an hour in the hospital car park.

This was all happening while Brian’s wife was waiting in the hospital with baby Jesse, eager to go home. The Dubliner noted how he kept the pressure on Bill. He told him the players needed information first thing the next morning, which was the day before the European game.

There was still nothing. He texted Bill again in the afternoon. The players were going mad. Brian says they were very close to contacting the players Union, the PFAI.

The plan was for them to draft a letter which would be shown to the club. Brian told Bill in the text that it was now or never. The players felt they had no other choice but to down tools. Luckily Bill got back to him.

The players knew the fans might turn on them, but it was the only leverage they had. It was not something that they took lightly, because the team felt they could beat Vitesse.

Brian was relieved Bill got back to him. The bonuses would be calculated on net income. But what the club could count as expenses would be capped. And the percentage was upped too.

He told the players as they came off the training pitch that the issue had been resolved. Vitesse beat Dundalk 2-1. Gartland recalled Patrick McEleney scored twice over in Holland.

The lilywhites were two minutes away from bringing the game to extra time when they conceded a late goal which saw Vitesse through.

The latest above excerpt from Brian’s book was published in last Friday’s Irish Daily Mirror. The book launch takes place next Tuesday 26th April at the Crown Plaza hotel. 

Final Thoughts

Former Players from the Dundalk 2002 cup winning team were guests of honour at Oriel last Friday night. They were introduced to the crowd at the Dundalk and Sligo game at half time. Afterwards, they held a Q&A session in the Enda McGuill bar.

Daniel Kelly won the man of the match award. Just as I was leaving the main stand I bumped into the greatest legend of Irish soccer Jim McLaughlin. Jim is the most successful ever manager in League of Ireland football. He was at the game with his son Paul.

Jim started his managerial career in Ireland in November 1974 with Dundalk. He went on to manage Shamrock Rovers and Derry City. He was super successful at all three clubs.

I felt very proud to shake the hand of a top-class manager, a living legend. Jim has lived in Blackrock since he arrived here in 1974. He is now a true native son of Dundalk. Have a great week. Please remember to be careful out there.

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