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24 May 2022

The Commentary Box: Dundalk need to start bring their attacking flair to away games

The Commentary Box: Dundalk need to start bring their attacking flair to away games

Dundalk Head coach Stephen O'Donnell has allowed his team freedom to attack when at Oriel, leading to great results but seems to be more conservative when on the road. (Pic: Sportsfile)

Last Friday night I thought I was being propelled back to the Stephen Kenny era as I saw a Dundalk side refuse to accept a point when their hard fought 1-0 lead was snatched away from them with nine minutes remaining.

Stephen O’Donnell, the Dundalk manager, showed all the guile and wisdom of his old boss when he brought on David McMillan and John Martin with six minutes to go.

O’Donnell had to think fast and on his feet as his team were on the ropes as the clock ticked on. It was looking as if the game was heading for another draw when Keith Ward was brought on as a sub earlier in the first half. He swung in a cross that John Martin saw come into the box at speed.

The former Waterford player rose high above the tall Shelbourne defenders to head an unstoppable header to the net. It was the culmination of night full of incidents that saw Shelbourne manager Damian Duff getting red carded for the first time in his career.

Both Dundalk and Shelbourne each had a player sent off with Mark Connolly picking up another yellow card. His booking and Stephen Bradley’s straight red card means both will miss Friday night’s Louth Derby at Oriel through suspension.

The latter end of the first half and the second half was played at a pace with such a high intensity that it was like two heavyweight boxers slugging it out for the world title.

Dundalk played positively looking for goals throughout. Contrast that with the hugely negative game against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght, where the champions won 1-0. I was amazed that three of Dundalk’s top players were dropped. Andy Boyle, Pat Hoban and Stephen Bradley.

Brian Gartland came in for Boyle, while Daniel Kelly played up front in place of Pat Hoban. Stephen Bradley was also replaced by Paul Doyle. I’m mentioning the Shamrock Rovers game as I was totally flummoxed by Dundalk going into the game without three of their best players against the champions.

Add to that the fact that Robbie Benson and Dan Williams were out through injury and it increases the case for him not to leave out the three players he did. Daniel Kelly did head a ball onto the Rovers crossbar. They forced four corners and had two other efforts on target In Tallaght .

But Stephen O’Donnell had his team set up for a draw once again away from home. This time it was not to be when their defence was sliced open by Jack Byrne with 18 minutes remaining. Danny Mandroiu got in behind Brian Gartland and scored.

Stephen O’Donnell

Before that disappointing result in Tallaght, Dundalk held Pat’s away from home at Inchicore in a scoreless draw. That night Dundalk had no shots on target and failed to notch up a single corner. Stephen O’Donnell disagreed with me completely after last Friday night’s game that Dundalk play negative football away from home.

I gave Stephen my stats but smiling at me he said he did not agree with my views on Dundalk’s away form. But the fact remains, while they are playing so well at Oriel, they can’t win a single game away from home. They have also lost two games away from Oriel as well.

O’Donnell took my points in good spirit and smiled as I pointed them out. Other managers in the past have growled understandably at me and what I was saying. But not Stephen O’Donnell. This is a young manager who exudes enthusiasm.

He relates so well with his players. He wants to win and he wants to share his successes with the Dundalk supporters. When Friday’s game was over, O’Donnell waved and clapped the crowd. He showed the same kind of emotion that Stephen Kenny used to share with the crowd.

It was great to see Stephen coming over to the main stand waving to supporters and encouraging them to respond. I suggested to the Dundalk boss he was certainly developing a rapport with the supporters.

O’Donnell said he always had such a rapport with the supporters and It was this connection that was the main factor that brought him back to Oriel last December.

I told him that some supporters near me were very annoyed that he took Pat Hoban off with six minutes remaining just as Shels levelled. Again, Stephen smiled and said they were annoyed that he had brought on the club’s leading goal scorer in Europe.

He was right, as only a magnificent block by David McMillan outside the box near the end prevented Shelbourne from getting a late, late, goal.

O’Donnell said he brought on John Martin and David McMillan with six minutes remaining as he did not want another draw. He needed the win. The Dundalk boss knew how vital those points were. It keeps Dundalk just a point behind the European spot of 3rd place currently held by Pat’s.

But on a serious note, to me Dundalk are going to have to start playing much more positively away from home to turn the draws into wins. The manager may not accept what I say, but surely he does know I’m right.

Ill Discipline

The Rovers-Dundalk game yesterday week was a poor spectacle vexed by Dundalk rarely showing signs of having a go at the champions. If Dundalk play as positively away from home in the future as they are now playing at home, then they will get a European spot next season. That I have no doubt.

The first half on Friday was nothing to write about until it exploded close to the brake. Shelbourne defender Shane Farrell got a second yellow card and then a red shortly before the break when he took Stephen Bradley down just as he was going through on goal.

Damien Duff, the Shelbourne manager was furious. Referee Paul McLaughlin went to Duff and gave him a yellow card. The referee immediately returned to the former Republic of Ireland manager and gave him a red card.

It’s believed he had picked up a water bottle and angrily spilled some of it on the ground. This was enough for the referee to return and give Duff his first ever red. He spent the rest of the night in the stands.

There were 9 yellow cards produced in total throughout the game, with two players and a manager getting the red cards.

Paul Doyle created the first Dundalk goal on 64 minutes. His cross found Daniel Kelly who finished the ball to the net. Stephen Bradley got his marching orders after appearing to lash out at Shels player Shane Farrell. The Bradley sending off came just before Dundalk took the lead.

Shels had clear appeals for a penalty waved away also in another incident. To their credit they kept coming at Dundalk. They got a dubious penalty when John Ross Wilson fell in the area from a Daniel Kelly challenge.

Shane Farrell stepped up with just nine minutes remaining and fired past Shepperd. We were set for the grandstand finale when Keith Ward pumped in a great cross for John Martin to head home.

It was a great win. And the main man who engineered it was manager Stephen O’Donnell by bringing Keith Ward on at the right time and also letting John Martin and David McMillan in to play at such a crucial time.

Daniel Kelly

Daniel Kelly told me after the game that he felt Dundalk were the better team in a very tough first half. He said that Shelbourne are a very hard to break down but that when Shane Griffin was sent off before half time it gave the Lilywhites the opportunity to take a hold on the game.

He said that Dundalk were sloppy for a time in the second half, including himself. Daniel felt the cross from Paul Doyle for his goal was sensational. He was just there to tap the ball home. The winning goal in his eyes three minutes from time was just top drawer.

Daniel said the cross from Keith Ward sliced Shelbourne apart. John Martin, he believes had only a 30 percent chance to get to the ball. He’s headed it somehow and the ball almost burst the Shelbourne net for the winner.

Daniel stated justice was done as the penalty awarded against him was never such a thing. He was very grateful for Dundalk getting the win. Daniel was not booked, but Mark Connolly was for what looked a blatant penalty. Amazingly no such penalty was given.

The midfielder noted how it was heart breaking when Shelbourne were awarded a penalty that should not have been. When the goal went, it felt like all their hard work had been undone.

Daniel said that Keith Ward is simply unbelievable. He confirmed how great he is in training and was magnificent when he came on. He said the Dundalk bench is very strong and to bring Keith Ward and John Martin on made such a huge impact, as did bringing Sam Bone on.

Daniel says the team want to keep their home form really good and want to improve their away record. He says that team training has been excellent, as everybody knows their own roles. Daniel says that this hard work is now being seen on the pitch.

Daniel is just one of a large number of many young players on this Dundalk team. Just as Stephen Kenny did when he took over in Oriel in late 2012 when bringing in many of these young players, Stephen O’Donnell is now doing the same.

Dundalk are in fourth place in the table. Next Friday it’s Drogheda United at Oriel Park In the second Louth Derby of the season. Drogheda beat Dundalk in the first one at United Park courtesy of a penalty. Dundalk can reverse that result with a win.

A Worthy Fundraiser

It was a very special night against Shels, doubling as a fundraiser for Research Motor Neurone. Colaiste Ris secondary school teacher Paula Lavin has been working very hard at fundraising for this very worthy cause, along with Councillor Maeve Yore.

She got the support of two local people who have been hit by the condition, Roy Taylor and Sean Woods. On April 2nd she organised a fundraising event that took in climbing Slieve Foy in South Armagh.

Many of her own students from Colaiste Ris and teachers as well took part. Her GAA club Gael Colmcille in Meath were very much involved in the organisation of the fundraising event.

Paula was not finished there. She approached every school in Dundalk and asked if they would allow their students to have a Jersey Day to raise funds for Motor Neurone Research.

Then Paula contacted Dundalk FC operations manager Martin Connolly to see if they could have a bucket collection at a game for the project. Martin kindly contacted her back and offered to raise the money via a jersey auction.

The main club sponsor Bet Regal agreed to have their name removed from the jersey for the Shelbourne game. The logo of Watch Your Back MND, a local charity set up by Roy Taylor that helps raise funds Motor Neurone research, was placed on the front of the jersey.

The jerseys were auctioned off all week online with the sales closing last Saturday. The jersey auction reached a staggering figure of over €8,000 euro. Roy Taylor and Sean Woods were at the game and deservingly were the main focus of attention.

Roy was a member of the band Jump The Gun, who represented Ireland In the 1987 Eurovision Song Contest. Tragically in 2018 he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and told his singing career was over.

Sean Woods from Dromiskin has equally been heavily involved in Paula’s fundraising for Motor Neurone. Sean has had the condition for some years.

The schools of Dundalk raised around €10,000 for the Free Jersey Day. Paula told me on Friday that she estimated that over €33,000 would have been raised from all the organized activities.

Joseph R . Gannascoli was at the game on Friday night. He told me he began as a chef before he got involved in acting. He is best known for his role in the 1990’s drama as Vito from the Sopranos.

He wished Dundalk well for the season and is confident they will beat Drogheda next Friday night. Have a safe week and remember please be careful out there.

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