Dundalk players celebrate after scoring against Shamrock Rovers earlier this year in Oriel Park. (Pic: Sportsfile)
David McMillan has been a magnificent player for Dundalk, from the Kenny era up to the present day. He is the club’s leading scorer in Europe, adding to that total in last season’s adventures in the Europa Conference League.
But at times during his Oriel career, David has been hit by injury which saw it becoming even more difficult for him to grab a regular first team place in recent seasons. With Pat Hoban being such a lethal striker, David’s opportunity of starting games has been made even more difficult.
However on Friday night, David was the man who unlocked a well-organized UCD defence on 51 minutes with a marvellous goal that eventually broke the bottom side’s stubborn opposition to a Dundalk side that got their three points and remain in second place.
The first half was basically a write off entertainment wise. UCD relied on frustrating Dundalk with 11 men behind the ball in defense. Dundalk also seemed to be suffering a hangover from their dour scoreless draw against Shelbourne the week before.
They were also without their skipper Pat Hoban once again, who is out for the foreseeable future with a quad injury. To be fair to the Oriel Park side, nobody could fault the Dundalk players for their first half performance.
All top sides will find it difficult to play against a team like UCD whose sole mission is to look for a draw and close up shop with their defence completely packed.
The Lilywhites eventually breached the College rear-guard on 35 minutes when Paul Doyle’s stunning shot looked a goal all the way. Somehow their keeper Cian Moore produced a top class save. They came close again three minutes later.
Greg Sloggett produced a sensational shot that produced an equally top class save. Once more the home team got at the UCD goal and one felt it was only a matter of time before they scored.
The opening goal arrived six minutes after the break. Daniel Kelly swapped flanks with Joe Adams at half time. The move proved to be a master stroke by Stephen O’Donnell.
Kelly broke down the right and got in a superb cross. Joe Adams headed the ball into the danger zone. David McMillan showed how he is still the lethal striker he has always been by firing home a stunner to the net.
The game was dead and buried six minutes later. A corner by Robbie Benson on the right was headed onto the college crossbar by Mark Connolly. A combination mistake by Mark Dignam and Evan Caffrey saw the ball cross the line for an own goal.
Nobody in the ground knew who scored. The media gave it to Robbie Benson. Then they gave it to Greg Sloggett. Even those in the media with access to TV screens had no idea who scored. Eventually it was agreed post-match that it was a UCD own goal.
Dundalk got their 3rd goal in injury time when John Martin slotted the ball from the UCD penalty area back out to Keith Ward. He unleashed a top drawer shot that nearly ripped through the top right-hand corner of the UCD net.
It was Dundalk’s 9th win in a row at Oriel. It’s this home form that is keeping Dundalk in second place. They have two games in hand, which if they win will leave them only four points behind leaders Shamrock Rovers.
Lewis Macari was top class at right full. Dundalk fans were delighted with the news the day before the UCD game that his loan deal from Stoke had been extended for the remainder of the season.
The other full back Darragh Leahy was again at his brilliant best, as were Mark Connolly and Andy Boyle. I eventually got a chance after the game to ask manager Stephen O’Donnell what was Mark’s position at Oriel.
He explained that the Dundalk centre half’s future lay with his permanent club Dundee United. He can be recalled by the Scottish Premier Division side at any stage. O’Donnell told me it was out of his hands.
Stephen revealed that he did play in Scotland with Dundee United’s new manager Jack Ross at Falkirk. He stressed that the fact he knew the new manager would have no influence on whether Mark Connolly will be staying or going.
Should the Clones man have to depart back to Scotland in the coming weeks it will be a big blow to Dundalk. And the decision will be made by nobody else but Dundee United and Mark Connolly. That decision will come sometime very soon.
He did say that the loan deal for Mark was beyond the end of last month. Understandably he would give no more details.
Keith Ward was a sensation when he came on as a sub, getting his first league goal of the season for Dundalk. I’m of the opinion that Wardy must be the most positive influence of all in the Dundalk dressing room.
He is always in good form and smiles and laughs during his interviews in a thoroughly sensible manner. If a player was feeling down, I’m sure a word with the kind and sincere Keith Ward would go a long way.
He is a genuinely nice guy. He showed that in 2014 when he gave away his EA Sports Cup medal to a young child when he was with Dundalk for the second time.
Keith revealed he missed the Shamrock Rovers game as he was in Spain at the wedding of Irish international Enda Stevens. He was best man at the wedding. He had his speech written out as all best men would.
But the likeable Dub said it got lost as all his concentration was on the Dundalk vs Rovers game. He says he winged the speech. I have no doubt it was a huge success. Keith has a natural sense of humour which in the future could make a fortune using his talent at afternoon dinners.
But Keith was not just signed by Stephen O’Donnell for being a nice guy. He is an excellent player who fits in exactly to the way the Dundalk boss likes to see his side’s play.
Pat Hoban Injury
Last week Stephen O’Donnell refused to say what the nature of Pat Hoban’s injury was that forced him to miss the Shelbourne game. One newspaper last week reported Pat had torn his quad against Shamrock Rovers and could be out for up to six weeks.
I did not get a chance to talk to Stephen at last week’s Shelbourne game and was anxious to get his view on Hoban’s injury situation. When I suggested to the manager Hoban was gone for 6 weeks, he said that he would not be.
The Galwegian said that Pat had sustained a little strain on his quad and that he did not tear it. He was emphatic again it was a slight strain. He said hopefully he will be back in a few weeks.
I asked Stephen why he did not say what Hoban’s injury was in a press conference last week. He exclaimed it was probably because he was frustrated with the result against Shelbourne.
He mentioned Pat injured his quad only minutes into the Rovers game two weeks back and that he bravely played on, contributing in a major way to the winning goal. It’s men like this, Stephen added, that his team needs.
David McMillan said it was great to get the three points. He said the UCD game was one where Dundalk had to be patient. They had to wait for the goals to come and thankfully they got them in the second half.
The Dundalk striker knew it was always going to be difficult to break down a side who sit in and play a blanket defence. He said the team were happy at the way in which they played against the UCD defence. At half time they knew it was going to come for them and of course it did.
He says the side took the first and third goals very well. Even with the second goal Mark Connolly did well to get his header to hit the crossbar and Greg Sloggett was great in the way he got his body in to cause the UCD own goal.
David praised Paul Doyle for the way he got up for his shot off in the first half. David felt Paul did really well considering he was the midfielder in the side who has the role of sitting deep.
This showed how dominant Dundalk were in the first half and how high up the pitch the side were playing. David was full of praise for Daniel Kelly at the way he got the cross in for his goal. It was headed into his path and David struck it like any lethal striker would.
David said the ball bounced in the air and that made him have to swivel to ensure he struck the net. The Dubliner knew it was important for him personally to score on Friday night, as it has been a frustrating season for him personally.
He says the team has been doing so well this season. But he wants to play as many games as he can and that has not happened this season. McMillan stressed that when the opportunities like Friday night come for him to play, he wanted to make a statement and that he did.
The third goal David felt was top class. He says John Martin got in down the right. Joe Adams got the flick and Keith Ward finished it superbly. David says it was great to see Keith get off the mark with his goal. He says Ward has been so heavily involved in all the positives about the team this season.
David feels there is good competition in the side for places. He says it’s great that everybody is pushing each other on.
The striker noted how he wants to keep Pat Hoban on his toes and make sure he is doing well. David says that’s the same in every position.
Speaking about their next encounter, McMillan stated the game against Drogheda United will be a difficult one at United Park. But he says they want to make amends for the defeat they suffered there earlier in the season.
David says the Louth Derbies are always games Dundalk players look forward to. He says the side will give it their all and that the atmosphere should be terrific.
David says it’s been great to have Stephen as manager. He says things are clicking for the and that the new owners have been very supportive of Stephen, who in turn has been great with the team. David says the cohesiveness culture at Oriel will get the club back to where it should be.
Robbie Benson was another player who influenced the team’s performance so much. He says it’s always going to be hard against any team who put 11 men behind the ball, no matter where they are in the table.
He says UCD were difficult to break down as they were so committed to their tactics and their defensive gameplan throughout the first half.
Robbie says the team knew that when they got a chance, they would have to take it which they did. He believed David McMillan’s goal was top-class and that Joe Adams did so well to keep the ball alive before the Dubliner ace pounced on it.
He says that once the first goal went in it was always going to be quite comfortable. Robbie says they put a great onus on their patterns and their movements. This they get from the training pitch, which then are manifested in how the team play in games through their passing and set pieces.
Robbie says the progression in the team from the start of the season until now has been top class. He says there are still a lot of things to work on too, as nothing is ever perfect. Robbie says there is a lot the team can work on; despite the fact they have been on such a great run.
The nine-game unbeaten run which included so many wins at Oriel has been marvellous. He says he does not think that was ever done at the club, even at the height of the great Kenny days.
He says the Louth Derby will be very difficult on Friday at United Park, as Drogheda have already turned Dundalk over at their home venue.
Robbie says they must just concentrate on themselves and not be worried about Shamrock Rovers or Derry City. He believes Dundalk will finish where they finish as a result of the results they get themselves. This he says is what’s most important.
Benson is well aware Dundalk have only won two games away from home. But he points out they have taken seven points out of a possible nine in their last three away games.
The Athlone native added that Drogheda is a very tough place for any team to go and that Dundalk will have to be at their very best to ensure they don’t get beaten there again, as what happened earlier in the season.
Robbie added that the team have been saying for some time that next Friday in Drogheda is one of the games they have in hand on Shamrock Rovers. Dundalk must capitalize on this.
The Title Race
Stephen O’Donnell was quick to point out to me that Dundalk have collected seven points out of nine in their last three away games. He says they have lost only two games all season so far.
He asked me if I would have taken that at the start of the season. I said yes of course I would. And they are playing very well. But I have to say in one of those wins away from home, Dundalk were very lucky to get three points in Ballybofey.
Harps missed a series of chances in the game which should have earned them at least a point. In fact I’m worried about how Dundalk have only reproduced their fabulous home form at Oriel on one occasion playing away. That was against Derry City, when Dundalk were top class at the Brandywell.
If Dundalk wish to be in the shake up for the title, they need to win more games away from home and play the positive way they do at Oriel.
There was great shock on Saturday morning after the Republic of Ireland National team manager Vera Pauw revealed she was raped as a young player in the Netherlands. She also revealed she suffered two more sexual assaults during her time in Dutch football.
Vera says she made several reports to the football authorities in her home country and has now reported the allegations to the Dutch police. She has allowed memories of the incidents to control her life and to fill her with daily pain and anguish.
She hopes that by making the revelations public, she can finally move on and be proud of herself. Her revelations drew an apology from the Dutch Federation. They said it was unacceptable that Vera did not enjoy a safe working environment.
This is both shocking and disgraceful. The perpetrators involved in abusing Vera must be brought to justice. The FAI say they are giving their full support to Vera.
On a final note, Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley’s son remains ill in hospital. To Stephen I just wish to pass on my deepest sympathies and to him and his family. Everybody in the football world is thinking of you and your family and especially your young child.
Football takes a back seat to the health of all of our families. The thought of a young family like Stephen’s dealing with the illness of their eight-year-old is harrowing for their family and friends and the soccer family as a whole. Have a safe week. And please be careful out there.
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