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24 May 2022

The Commentary Box: Stephen O’Donnell turning Oriel back into a stronghold again

The Commentary Box: Stephen O’Donnell turning Oriel back into a stronghold again

Dundalk players celebrate following a goal in the Louth Derby versus Drogheda United at Oriel Park. (Pic: Sportsfile)

Last Friday night was another great one for Dundalk fans as they swept aside Louth neighbours Drogheda United with a comprehensive 4-1 win at Oriel Park.

Manager Stephen O’Donnell was keen to point out that his team is making Oriel a fortress and that was his aim from the day he walked into Oriel to take over as boss last December.

It was Dundalk’s fifth win at home in the league this season. Their other two home games were draws with the top two in the League, Derry City and Shamrock Rovers. The feature of the night was the huge work rate and intensity at which Dundalk played.

Stephen O’Donnell agreed with me after the game that it was a thoroughly comprehensive performance from his team. Darragh Leahy got his first two goals for Dundalk. He had not scored in the league since April 2018 when he grabbed a late  winner for Bohemians at Tallaght against Shamrock Rovers.

Darragh also scored for Bohemians in a cup game against Galway in August 2018. He is arguably the best left full in the country. He is a Republic of Ireland under 21 international and It would not surprise me if he does end up going cross channel.

Top class left fulls are indeed a rarity. Despite his lack of goals for Dundalk it’s as a defender that he has been top notch. His role is not to be a goal scorer. He prevents and creates them. Daragh has missed games through injury.

His career has been bedevilled by injury. He did miss a number of games at the start of the season. Since his return, the Dundalk defense looks so strong and composed.

Keith Ward was involved in three of the goals last Friday. He was my man of the match, Darragh was the official man of the match. Stephen O’Donnell was right to say that Ward was a great player who could slot into any role he was given.

The Dundalk boss was right to say that Ward can start any game and stamp his authority throughout the 90 minutes. He says some supporters did question why Dundalk were signing Ward again. Keith has answered all questions through the football he has played on the pitch. It’s been top class.

Joe Adams had an excellent game for Dundalk, getting down the flanks so well on Friday night. His crosses into the box caused havoc in the Drogheda defense.

Marc Connolly was again the player showing that he was possibly the best signing by Dundalk in the close season. Connolly reminds me more and more of Chris Shields. Connolly is a centre half. Shields is a centre midfielder. But both are tough physically strong players.

Connolly has added so much to this Dundalk team. The very quiet spoken Clones man was a great acquisition. His leadership is as vital on the field just as it is off the field.

Marc misses next Friday’s game against UCD through a one match suspension following the number of yellow cards he has picked up since the start of the season. Up to half time on Friday night he was the best player on the pitch.

Brian Gartland will fill in for him on Friday as Dundalk go in search of their first away win of the season against UCD.

Lewis Macari has really taken to his proper role as right full since the return of Darrgh Leahy. He has been able to tighten the defence up even more than it was. Paul Doyle was so good at midfield while Pat Hoban was very hard working as usual.

Nathan Shepherd continues to go from strength to strength in goals while Andy Boyle exuded confidence and leadership alongside Marc Connolly. Greg Sloggett did well at midfield but looked tired at times. I think squad rotation may be needed in his case as he looks exhausted.

Last Friday week Shelbourne boss Damian Duff was sent off having protested at a player being sent off and then kicking water bottles near him. On Friday Stephen O’Donnell was booked just after Dundalk got their first goal. It’s very seldom a Dundalk manager gets a yellow card.

I said to him afterwards that I was looking out for water bottles, hoping there were none as I did not want to see him get a red card. He said he would never have done anything else to get another yellow card which would have led to a red card.

He seemed to have got the yellow card when a Drogheda player stole a few yards advantage when awarded a free inside the Dundalk half just after Dundalk got the opening goal.

Drogheda Recap

Dundalk led on 39 minutes when Keith Ward cracked a 25-yard free off the Drogheda crossbar. Darragh Leahy headed the rebound home. Dundalk added a second on 50 minutes.

Lewis Macari got a cross in from the right. Two Drogheda players failed to clear as did a Dundalk player who failed to connect with the loose ball. But Darragh Leahy was on hand at the far post to shoot home from close range.

Keith Ward was involved in the 3rd goal. He went for the ball with Keith Cowan. Cowan was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box. Pat Hoban scored the spot kick.

Ryan Brennan ran through the Dundalk defence to get a consolation goal for Drogheda with three minutes remaining. But as the clock hit 90 minutes just as he did last week John Martin shot home from inside the box to give Dundalk a 4-1 win.

Daniel Kelly had some great efforts forcing Bohs keeper Sam Long into three fine saves. Stephen O’Donnell was delighted with the win saying that teams travelling either down the M1 or coming from the northwest will know Oriel is a place where they will find it hard to get anything.

Away Record

Next Friday night’s game against bottom of the table UCD at Belfield gives Dundalk a chance to get their first away win of the season. Dundalk have been playing very negatively in their away games in comparison to the home games.

They were very poor in their last two against Pat’s and Shamrock Rovers. Dundalk failed to register a single shot on target or indeed even force a corner in the Pat’s game. That game finished scoreless. Against Shamrock Rovers Dundalk had two efforts on target and forced three corners.

Dundalk played it tight in both games. But they just sat back, letting teams come at them. Rovers eventually got a winner in Tallaght. This was a game Dundalk could have won. Instead, they went down to a single goal.

Teams who pack their defence and hope to catch their opponents on the break don’t deserve to get anything from these games. Dundalk have shown they are a highly talented team who will score many goals.

So Dundalk must play away from home as they do at Oriel. They will start to do this by getting three points and their first away win of the season next Friday at Belfield.

Paul Doyle

Paul Doyle who came to Dundalk this season from UCD says that Stephen O’Donnell has always been instilling a philosophy of always being on the foot front.

Paul said the team were on top right from the start against Drogheda. Paul said that the basis for any team was that they were hard to beat at home and that’s what Dundalk do. He said the team are trying to make Oriel a fortress and they are succeeding.

Paul says Dundalk want to make a place where no other teams want to come. Describing the first goal Paul said Keith Ward’s free was top class. Praising Darragh Leahy, Paul recalled how his rebound header to the net was from a very acute angle.

He said the goal may have looked a very easy one to get to, but that was far from being the case. For the second goal Paul said Dundalk always get bodies into the box.

Lewis Macari got the cross into the danger area. Drogheda defenders were put under pressure. Darragh Leahy was at the far post to tap home.

Paul was full of praise for the way Keith Ward got in behind Drogheda’s Keith Cowan forcing him to handle in the box. Pat Hoban converted the penalty as only Pat can.

Paul said the fourth goal saw Joe Adams put in a great pass to Joe Adams. It was a case of Deja Vu as John got in for a great goal just as he did last week and at the exact same time he got the winner against Shelbourne the Friday before.

Paul said another good sign for Dundalk was that John came on as a substitute and made an instant impact. There were just 13 minutes remaining when John came on. He was very much involved in the game and got the fourth goal.

Paul felt that there was great strength in the squad and everybody knows if they are not doing their stuff on the pitch they can be replaced. He feels like things have been beginning to come together for the team in the past few weeks..

He said there were only average performances earlier in the season and a few little bumps along the way. But that was to be expected with such a new group and stressed that hopefully Dundalk can keep their performances going well and consistency at the level they have been showing recently.

Paul says he is loving every minute of being at Dundalk. It’s a step up from what he has been playing at up to now. He says Dundalk are a big club and that this is what he wants and that he sees Dundalk as the next step in his career.

He wants to be challenging for silverware and adding it to the bedroom wall. Paul says he wants to challenge for titles. Speaking about Dundalk playing his old club UCD next Friday Paul says it will be tough.

He says you can never know what’s going to happen in a game week to week and that every team must be treated with respect. He added that the preparation for every game is the same no matter who they are playing.

Paul noted that UCD have two serious attacking threats. Both are currently Republic of Ireland under 21 internationals. He says Dundalk must be very wary of these threats. He adds hopefully Dundalk can get another three points.

He is settling in well into the team since moving here from the Belfield Bowl and said that over the past few weeks he thinks he has grown in stature and confidence.

He says he thinks he is beginning to show what he is about and that hopefully he will kick on and go through another few gears. And he says he wants to continue to give the team more.

Jim McLaughlin

I was reading an article about Jim McLaughlin, the greatest and most successful manager ever in League of Ireland history. Jim is a Derry man, born and bred. However, he has been living in Blackrock since he became manager of Dundalk in 1974.

Jim spent nine years at Oriel, winning three league titles, three FAI Cups and League Cups. In 1979 he led Dundalk to the club’s first ever league and Cup double. He had a great European record, leading Dundalk to the edge of qualifying for the quarter final of the European Cup.

In November 1979 Dundalk were narrowly beaten in the first leg of the European Cup by Glasgow Celtic, 3-2 at Parkhead. The return leg at Oriel saw a record attendance of 20,000 people. Dundalk just needed a 1-0 win to go through to the last eight of the European Cup.

With eight minutes remaining a cross came in from the left. The ball came to the late great Tommy McConville, 12 yards from goal. He unleashed a powerful shot that had the Celtic keeper beaten. It was bound for the net.

But just as it seemed Dundalk were about to get the goal they so wished for, it took a vicious swerve, shaved the post and went wide. The gods had decided it was Celtic who would go through to meet Real Madrid. But Dundalk had shaken the great Scottish giants to their very core.

Jim had lots more success in Europe with Dundalk and won many domestic trophies. In 1983 he moved to Shamrock Rovers and was very successful with them. He moved to his home city of Derry and won the treble of League title, League Cup and FAI Cup. It was the first and only time the elusive treble had been won in Irish soccer.

Jim moved to Shelbourne from Derry and went on to win more leagues and cups. But over all that time he remained living with his family in Blackrock and still does to this day. Jim was awarded the Freedom of the City by Derry City council.

That award has only been given to the all-time greats such as the late John Hume who was responsible for the Good Friday Agreement which ended the troubles in the north.

When reading this I was immediately hit by the thought that Jim McLaughlin has never been given any personal recognition by the local authorities in this area for all that he did to put Dundalk and Louth on the map.

It is an absolute disgrace that Jim never received any personal recognition for what he achieved. He cannot be awarded freedom of the town of Dundalk, as no such award can be given for this area. But he could be given a civic reception in his honour by Louth County Council.

Dundalk Town Council were the local authority in charge of the area until around 2012. This council never gave Jim any individual or personal recognition. Louth County Council now run the town of Dundalk.

Dundalk FC and the residents of this great town should insist that Jim and his family get some official recognition for all he did for sport in the area.

The council should be lobbied as should local councillors, Senators and TD’s that Supermac, as he was fondly known by Dundalk supporters, should get that recognition.

Final Thoughts

I see that 17-year-old Stephen McMullen, who is from Dundalk and who has played as a goalkeeper for Warrenpoint Town FC in the Irish League Premier Division on a number of occasions this season, has been approached by English League 1 side Fleetwood Town.

Stephen has also represented the Republic of Ireland under 17 team on a number of occasions. I have seen him play for Warrenpoint a number of times.

He has the makings to be a great keeper. I have no doubt that had Warrenpoint used Stephen on a more regular basis this year they would never have been relegated.

I wish Stephen all the best for the future. I also hope that Warrenpoint can return to the Premier Division by getting promotion next season.

Congratulations to Newry City AFC who were promoted to the Premier Division of the Irish League last Saturday as Division 1 champions. I wish everybody a good week. And please remember be careful out there.

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