29 May 2022

The Commentary Box: Dundalk’s away form leaving European football in jeopardy

The Commentary Box: Dundalk’s away form leaving European football in jeopardy

Dundalk players Lewis Macari, left, and Darragh Leahy applaud the away fans after their side's draw with UCD. (Pic: Sportsfile)

Dundalk’s Jekyll and Hyde form comparing home and away displays was there for all to see at the Belfield Bowl last Friday night when the Oriel Park side drew 2 -2 and once again failed to record a win in an opponent’s grounds in comparison to their fortress form at their home base.

Dundalk finished the game against UCD with 10 men, they had got their first goal in the first half and a second goal early in the second half. The second goal had happened after the sending off of Andy Boyle just before half time.

In truth Dundalk, as expected, changed their usual defensive approach they adapt when playing away from home. They went for goals and built up a two-goal lead.

But it was a night when they seemed to be out of sync in most departments on the pitch and it was no surprise to me to see UCD come back from the dead and grab a late draw which to my mind they fully deserved.

Dundalk’s form reminded me of the time they were beaten away from home by Drogheda United two months ago. That was a lack lustre display at United Park. This was a lack lustre display at the Belfield Bowl. And Brian Gartland saved Dundalk from almost certain defeat at the end of the game when he cut out a UCD attack that had goal all over it.

UCD had players swarming forward with just Gartland back. He timed a marvellous tackle to preciseness to cut short the danger to the Dundalk defence. That UCD nearly grabbed a winner showed how much out of sorts Dundalk really were.

Even with 10 men Dundalk should have won. But in truth UCD deserved their point and few could have disputed that they would have deserved all three points if they had got a late goal.

Stephen O’Donnell

Stephen O’Donnell told me that he felt that Dundalk finished the game the stronger side and with 10 men it’s never easy. I agree with him about the 10 men, but totally disagree with him that Dundalk finished the game the stronger of the sides.

He said Dundalk had to play 50 minutes with 10 men and that this was never easy to do. I agree. Marc Connolly was suspended for the game and he was a huge loss at the heart of the defence.

Losing Andy Boyle at the heart of the defence following his sending off proved pivotal in UCD’s ability to hurt Dundalk at the back. This they did as they tore into Dundalk.

Stephen did say the one thing he was disappointed with was that Dundalk let UCD back into the game so quickly after going two goals up. He said Dundalk did not have enough time to sit on their lead.

UCD he said got some impetus from that. He said Dundalk did not give up many chances at all. For the UCD penalty he said Robbie Benson lost his footing. Both players fell over, so it was not effecting the ball flight from the corner.

Neither player was going to tackle each other. The ball he says went over their heads. Stephen said he was amazed the referee gave a penalty. He told me he thought he was going to give Dundalk a free out.

Told by me he had yet to win away from home he said he agreed, but out of the seven games they had lost only two and drawn five. He said they have little things to work on but that they had chances to win the game too.

But this concerns me. Not being able to win a single game away from home out of seven won’t be good enough at the end of the season if Stephen O’Donnell hopes to lead his side into Europe next season.

While Oriel is a fortress and that’s fine, O’Donnell must work on vastly improving his sides performances away from home if he wants to turn those draws into wins.

At times it looked as if some players had very little interest in what was going on around them. This is not good enough from a side chasing a European place.

The Dundalk boss said his team did not sit back long enough to give themselves time to consolidate. He accepted Dundalk let them back in the game and ultimately UCD staged a comeback.

He accepted that it was a tough four game period that Dundalk were now heading into. Next Friday night it’s Bohemians at Oriel. The following Monday it was Derry away.

Stephen said although there were four tough games coming up, Dundalk are also a tough team and that they were not afraid of anybody.

When I said to the Dundalk boss that I was surprised he did not play Stephen Bradley who was back from suspension, he asked me would I have not started with the same side that won 4-1 the previous week.

I said to him probably, but that I was surprised he did not play Bradley. In good humour Stephen said I had plenty of opinions. I replied so had he. And I don’t go with the idea that you begin with the same team that won so well the week before, if it means leaving lethal strikers on the bench.

Anyway, it was not the same team as Marc Connolly had been suspended. Add to that subs used against Drogheda played a better role in that game than some who started.

Dundalk have now seen three of their players getting red cards in their last four games. Four of the last eight goals Dundalk have scored have been penalties. Asked if he was concerned about that the Dundalk boss said he does not have a dirty player on his team.

The Galwegian noted that he can’t do anything about decisions. He says he looks back over them and that if he believes it’s a correct call he will say it. He wants his players to compete but if he ever thought they were crossing the line he would deal with it.

Keith Ward

Keith Ward, a young man who has been enjoying his return to Oriel this season, again created a goal. It was his corner midway through the first half that allowed Paul Doyle to volley to the net. Keith has been a revelation this season.

He has played under Ian Foster, Stephen Kenny and now Stephen O’Donnell. It’s rare for a player to return to the one-club three times. But the man from Swords in North County Dublin says he has no regrets about coming back to Oriel.

Keith told me after Friday’s game that he felt his team would see the game out having gone 2-0 up. He said the first goal was very soft to give away and that he did not think the penalty awarded against Robbie Benson was the correct one.

He says it was very disappointing, but that they would just have to take away the positives of going unbeaten over the past number of weeks. Keith said he was as happy with creating Paul Doyle’s goal as he was in creating goals in previous games.

But he said he was disappointed that he missed a good chance just before half time. The Dubliner exclaimed that it’s important that Dundalk kick on and climb up the table .He says the next two weeks would be very intensive with Bohemians next Friday and Derry three days later.

But Keith says Dundalk are well equipped to deal with the busy programme just ahead. He says a home game against Bohs this Friday is followed by Derry away on the Monday. They face Finn Harps away the following Friday at Finn Park and then Pat’s at Oriel.

He says the quality is there for Dundalk to do well, even though there are injuries and upcoming suspensions. Keith confirmed he never saw himself going back to Dundalk after he left Bohs. But when the manager came calling he jumped at the chance to return to Oriel.

He says it was a no brainer. Ward started the season on the bench. However, he has started games of late and played very well. The manager has been very keen to point out just how good a player Ward is.

Keith says he still has a lot in the tank and a lot to give to Dundalk. He says he can create many chances and that’s what the manager expects him to do.

The attacker believes Dundalk are back to being in a great place with Stephen as manager and is confident that the manager will get the club back to the place where it wants to be.

He says it’s going to take a bit of time and that the right man is in charge as they also have a lot of very good players.

Keith said he had great spells at Dundalk. One was under Stephen Kenny.  He says it was great to win the EA Sports Cup and League title in 2014 with Dundalk. I remember Keith gave his EA Sports Cup winning medal to a Dundalk supporter.

I thought this was a hugely generous thing for Keith to do. Keith says he does not need a medal sitting in his house saying he had won the League cup. He says that giving his medal to a young child in 2014 was just a nice thing to do.

This sums up the generosity and kindness of this Dundalk player. He is without doubt one of the good ones. Keith says he is looking forward to this Friday’s game with Bohemians. He played with them last season. Dundalk drew with Bohemians at Dalymount earlier in the year.

Keith says they are a top-quality side, but that Dundalk should beat them. Last Friday Bohemians drew with high flying Derry City away from home. Keith says they really are an attacking team who can cause any team trouble.

Keith was adamant that the league position Bohs were in was false. He says they will climb the table. When asked why Dundalk have yet to win a game away from home this season he says that it was probably just down to away performances.

He said they probably just haven’t been good enough. He said they should have won on Friday, especially after giving away a 2-0 lead. He also said that away from home Dundalk have been giving away a lot of penalties.

He said they haven’t been conceding many goals from open play when away from home and that even in the first half against UCD he felt Dundalk gave away sloppy fouls.

He says the only time UCD looked dangerous was from frees. He says that giving away a lot of frees and penalties might be worth looking at, as well as well as the team’s discipline away from home overall.

It was really good to hear from Keith. His positivity about the teams future under the guidance of Stephen O’Donnell lit the dark skies over the Belfield bowl during incessant rain.

Despite the bad weather Keith gave up his time in the rain to speak to the fans through the Democrat to give his positive views on how things are going at Oriel and the prospect of such a great future the club has under the new owners and a good manager.

Final Thoughts

Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley seemed all ready at the beginning of last week to be leaving the champions for English League Two side Lincoln City. To me it seemed crazy he would even consider the idea, but he did.

No disrespect to Lincoln but as their manager Bradley would never have seen the successes he has had here, especially those in Europe in previous seasons. And he has plenty to look forward to this season with possibly another league success and a good European run.

Dundalk man Stephen McMullen signed a two-year contract with English League One side Fleetwood. Stephen is a Republic of Ireland of Ireland under 17 International. Stephen has been with Irish League side Warrenpoint Town in the season that’s just finished.

I’ve seen Stephen play for the Warrenpoint first team. It was clear he is a top-class keeper. Sadly, Warrenpoint were relegated and will play Division One football next season. Stephen did not get as many first team games as he should have.

But he is one for the future. I wish him all the best. Please look after yourselves this week and each other. And remember to be careful out there.

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