Ethan Boyle, left, and Liam McGing of Finn Harps await a corner against Patrick Hoban, centre, Andy Boyle, Greg Sloggett and Darragh Leahy, right, during the Airtricity League Premier Division match
At 6.50 pm last Friday evening less than an hour before kickoff a tweet went up on the Dundalk FC official account that centre half Mark Connolly had been recalled from his loan spell at Oriel by Dundee United.
Supporters were stunned at the news that part of the main spine of the team had left Oriel.
But there was some optimism in the statement that it is not all doom and gloom regarding the big Clones man.
It said that discussions about Mark’s future between Dundalk and Dundee are continuing.
The club said they hoped to clarify the situation as soon as possible.
Stephen O’Donnell told me that the latest on Mark Connolly is that all parties are trying to work on an agreement.
O’Donnell said that if Dundalk had their way, they would want Mark to stay.
He said the club are doing their best to keep Mark at Oriel.
The manager said he wished to assure fans the club were pulling out all the stops to see the Clones man return.
O’Donnell said fans may have been disappointed at the news of Connolly being recalled.
But that, he says, is the nature of loan deals.
The manager repeated everyone at the club was doing their best to get Mark Connolly back.
The manager is without doubt that doing his best to get Connolly back. Mark is a Chris Shields type of player.
They are few and very far between.
It’s just over a year since Shields departed Dundalk to Linfield.
Dundalk fans gave him the best send off I have ever seen.
If the club cannot get Connolly back on a new loan deal, it would be a massive blow to the team.
Mark is simply one of those players a team can ill afford to lose at such a crucial time of the season.
The window closes this coming Saturday. Will we see big Mark return? I simply do not know.
The club had known for days if not a week that Mark was returning to his parent club .
I got a feeling something was happening when I spoke to Mark briefly after the Pat’s game in Inchicore.
I congratulated him on getting the Soccer Writers Player of the Month Award for June.
He seemed to have tears in his eyes.
He is a gentleman.
But I think he obviously knew then he was being called back to Scotland.
He gave a quiet but mannerly response of thank you.
The transfer window closes this Saturday.
I have doubts he will return but we await the white smoke.
One thing is for sure, the Dundalk manager and club owners will leave no stone unturned to try and get him back.
Despite the big shock fans got before the game, they were served up a feast of football by the home team who had the game won inside seven minutes.
Peter Cherrie continued in goals and took off a couple of fine saves.
Nathan Shepherd will return next week from injury for the cup game against Longford.
Robbie Benson missed Friday’s game purely as a precaution.
He had a niggling elbow injury.
Mark Connolly’s place at the heart of defence was taken up by Sam Bone.
He played in midfield the week before.
Paul Doyle started.
He was on the bench for the Pat’s game the week before.
Stephen Bradley made his first start for some time. He was magnificent.
He was back to his early season form when he won the Soccer Writers Player of the Month award In March.
He scored one of Dundalk’s goals and created another.
Dundalk went at Harps from the start. Keith Ward’s corner after just four minutes fell to Stephen Bradley.
His shot deflected off Liam McGing. Darragh Leahy smashed the ball to the net from close range.
Three minutes later came goal number two. Greg Sloggett broke in to the Harps penalty area.
He could have gone for goal himself. He squared the ball to Keith Ward who slotted the ball home.
This was Ward’s second league goal of the season.
Dundalk got their third and final goal with 9 minutes remaining.
Stephen Bradley cut inside from the right. He put the ball on to his left foot and curled the ball high inside the far post from 25 yards.
Keith Ward cracked a ball off the Harps crossbar just 10 minutes in to the second half.
Pat Hoban, Stephen Bradley and Darragh Leahy all had chances as the second half wore on.
John Mountney has been out with a serious injury for over a year when playing with Pat’s against Dundalk at Oriel Park.
Mountney has been getting extensive treatment since he returned to Oriel in February from Pat’s.
On Friday night it was great to see him back.
The result cut Shamrock Rovers lead at the top to just 6 points with Rovers having a game in hand.
Shamrock Rovers played their game in hand the next day on Saturday afternoon against Drogheda United in Tallaght.
Rovers took the lead with just 17 minutes remaining. But Drogheda battled bravely to get an equaliser from Evan Weir with just three minutes left.
The result meant that Rovers lead at the top was just seven points on Dundalk.
Thus it was a very rewarding weekend for Dundalk.
They still can most certainly be caught.
Dundalk’s Stephen Bradley says he was delighted with his form following Friday night’s game.
He says he has been hit with niggling injuries since April but that now he is back to his best.
Stephen says the team had a really good training week, and he took it in to his game on Friday night.
Stephen was very shy taking praise for his performance.
He says you can’t remain on a high top long after a game.
This young man should be proud.
It was the 20-year-old who shone like a beacon all night with a sparkling display.
He says he was delighted, but that his performance was a long time coming.
He says he’s been plagued by a series of niggling injuries but they were behind him now.
Stephen says his goal came from a great move by Greg Sloggett.
He says the ball came from the left. He cut by one of the defenders and decided why not go for it.
He curled the ball into the top right-hand corner of the net. Stephen adds that since his 3 goals earlier in the season he is not saying he has been playing badly.
He says he has just not been getting the goals and the assists.
Stephen says he has had the injuries but now feels back to his best.
He says he is confident he is now back at his peak and that he can kick on from here.
Stephen says he is enjoying his football again which is so important.
He says it’s important for him to stamp his authority on the pitch and to shine in games for the rest of the season.
He says his main aim has to be to return to his parent club Hibernians and to get a place in the first team.
Stephen says he speaks to Hibernian regularly.
He revealed that they have come along and watched some of Dundalk’s games.
Stephen says Hibs have been very good to him during his time at Dundalk.
He says they take a huge interest in his development at Oriel.
This he says will help him greatly when he returns to the Scottish Premier Division.
Stephen says the manager at Oriel and his assistants have been great.
Stephen accepts that this Friday’s first round cup game against First Division Longford will be very hard.
He is well aware that they beat Dundalk twice last season in the Premier Division.
But he knows they were subsequently relegated. Stephen says Dundalk want to go on and win the cup which he feels they can.
He says Dundalk will take each game by game for the rest of the season .
On Friday it’s Longford In the cup at Oriel. The following week it’s Derry City in the league again at Oriel.
Stephen says both games are winnable.
John Mountney was signed by the late Sean McCaffrey for Dundalk in 2012. He played a huge part in the Stephen Kenny era and was at Oriel 2020. He joined Stephen O’Donnell at Pat’s for season 2021.
But when Stephen left Pat’s after winning the cup John followed him back to Oriel.
John picked up an injury playing for Pat’s this time last season in Oriel.
He has been out of football since.
He told me it was exactly a year in Oriel where he got the injury. He says it’s been very difficult working behind the scenes at both Pat’s and Dundalk to get his chance to return and working on his injury.
John says it was indeed strange times as he fought his battle to return to fitness. He adds this was especially so during Covid.
John says it was hard to take when he was told he would be out for a year .
He says he was very lucky to have a good mentor in Brian Gartland who got the same injury in Tallaght the year before. He says Brian’s mindset was so positive taking things bit by bit as he fought the recovery process.
John said he took things in small steps and bit by bit .He also kept the head down and focussed on the recovery process.
John said a part of the recovery process was down to himself .But he says the medics were fantastic.
He says the physio Danny Millar has been a huge help to him in the recovery process. He says the other medics Conor and
Greg at Oriel have been instrumental to his recovery.
But John says a large part of the recovery is down to the person themselves and what they have in their own mind and that there were of course dark moments during the recovery process. But he said it was great being back in Dundalk.
John says the positive atmosphere arriving back in Oriel was huge and that it was being back in Oriel that kept his spirits high and boosted his determination to prove a point.
John says that few managers would have given him the time and space to recover as Stephen had.
The manager had signed John in January knowing his recovery could be seven to eight months in the future.
John says there are few managers like Stephen O’Donmell.
He says the manager knew he would knuckle down and work hard to recover which he now has.
John says he is only 29 and coming in to his peak and would like to think he has a lot to offer Dundalk.
I have no doubt he will.
John said he had no hesitation moving back to Dundalk when Stephen O’Donnell left Pat’s in November to become the new Dundalk boss.
John says he had nine seasons at Dundalk before going to Pat’s.
He had played with no other club in the league except Dundalk prior to moving to Pat’s.
He says he lived in Dundalk while playing with Pat’s.Thus he had never moved away from the locality.
John says it felt great coming on for the last 15 minutes in the Harps game last Friday.He says to get the reception he got from the home fans was truly a nice touch.
John says Dundalk want to finish the season as strongly as possible.
He says the only game they are thinking about is the home game next Friday in the cup against Longford.
John warns it will not be an easy game.
John says the reaction among the Dundalk fans to him returning to Oriel has been fantastic.
He says he is friends with a lot of the fans.
He says he has a family now since he was last with Dundalk. John says everything is great.
John played with Peter Cherrie when he arrived at Oriel in March 2012.
He says he smiled at the fact that himself and Peter playing for Dundalk was akin to the RTE program Reeling in the Years.
Keith Ward says everything is going so well for him at Oriel.
On Friday he got his second league goal of the season and also had a thunder bolt shot come crashing off the crossbar.
Keith says he knew how important it was for Dundalk to get the early goal. He said Greg Sloggett set him up well for the second goal which was the one he got. Keith says he was delighted with his shot which nearly hit the Finn Harps net.
Praising Stephen Bradley Keith said he was a marvellous player.
Keith says Stephen is learning a lot from playing with Dundalk and that the year here will stand to him when he returns to Hibernians next season.
Keith says he hopes Mark Connolly can return. He says he has been a colossus for the club on and off the pitch.
He agreed with me that Mark Connolly was a player of the same quality and standard as Chris Shields.
He says he hopes he stays.
Keith says he wants to get back to the cup final this season after the heartbreak of last season.Keith played for Bohemians against Pat’s in the final at the Aviva last November.
It was heartbreak for Wardy as he saw Stephen O’Donnell’s team win the cup on penalties.
Keith says Friday’s cup game against Longford will not be easy.
But he says he is hopeful Dundalk can make it all the way to the final.
Keith says it’s a long road to the final. And he warns Longford are a big barrier to Dundalk progressing.
Keith says as like Friday night against Harps, Dundalk will be looking to get early goals which hopefully will knock the stuffing out of them.
Dundalk have been handed another fine for their supporters letting off flares at United Park in Drogheda over two weeks ago.
The fine was over €1,100.
The club should be able to identify these people. They are only a handful.
They ignore the pleas of the club. The flares are no longer let off at Oriel.
But the club is still fined even if the flares are let off away from home.
The club can stamp this out. They need to take a very hard stand against the culprits. If they do not they will be forced to needlessly pay fines for the behaviour of a small group of people who care little for Dundalk FC.
So it’s the FAI cup next Friday.
Hopefully Dundalk can get the win and advance. But nothing can be taken for granted.
Have a safe week and please everybody remember to look after yourselves and others.
And equally importantly be careful out there.
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