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08 Aug 2022

The Commentary Box: Dundalk come out of Connolly saga with a lot of credit

The Commentary Box: Dundalk come out of Connolly saga with a lot of credit

Joe Adams of Dundalk celebrates with teammate Steven Bradley after scoring his side's third goal during the Extra.ie FAI Cup First Round match between Dundalk and Longford Town

Following the confirmed departure of on loan Dundee United centre half Mark Connolly to Derry City early last week, it was back to business on Friday night with Dundalk advancing to the next round of the FAI cup 4-0 against First Division Longford Town.

Four goals in ten minutes, from the 58th minute of the second half to the 68th minute, finally saw Longford off. In front of their lowest crowd of the season, just over 1,500 people, Dundalk were poor and struggled against a mediocre Longford Town team in the first half.

They created chances but could not put them away. New signing Rumar Hauge played very well on the wing while Pat Hoban was always the most hardworking and creative Dundalk player throughout the game.

Stephen O’Donnelll played Keith Ward in a very forward role, just like a striker, and it never worked. In that first half, Longford did not have to stretch themselves to contain Dundalk. The home side were ponderous on the ball in that poor first half. They over played the ball too many times and failed to develop any disconcerting rhythm.

Dundalk played a high defensive line which would have been exploited easily by any Premier Division team. Longford’s Jordan Ademayo did lob a 43rd minute goal over the head of Nathan Shepherd only to see his effort disallowed for offside .

Stephen O’Donnell and Tim Cregg watched on from the TV gantry in growing frustration.

Two substitutions by Dave Mackey on 54 minutes bringing Ryan O’Kane and Joe Adams on in place of Keith Ward and Runar Hauge proved to be a master stroke.

Dundalk suddenly came to life. They led on 58 minutes when Joe Adams shot in the bob was parried by Longford keeper Luke Dennison. Man of the match, Greg Sloggett swept the loose ball into the net.

The second goal came within two minutes when Pat Hoban powered home a magnificent header in the box. Minutes later, Joe Adams shot from 20 yards and went under the body of the Longford keeper for his first goal for Dundalk this season.

Ryan O’Kane played superbly and in one of his many runs down the flanks he got a cross into the box which was shot home by Greg Sloggett for Dundalk’s fourth and final goal of the night. It was also the first time Greg Sloggett got two goals for Dundalk in a competitive game.

Next Friday night Dundalk face 3rd placed in the League Derry City. This is a massive game as Ruaidhri Higgins takes his star studded Brandywell side to Oriel. Many of the Derry team contain ex Dundalk players.

Two of the players Patrick McEleney and Michael Duffy signed pre contract deals with their home city club as last season wore on.

I do not blame these two players or any others who departed for Derry either as the club at Oriel was falling apart under Peak6. Indeed only because the new owners of Dundalk came in before the end of the season and Stephen O’Donnell came in so soon then the club would have lost the rest of the squad bar Andy Boyle who was still in contract.

Then yesterday week Derry City boss Ruaidhri Higgins flew to Scotland and went to Dundee United to do a deal for Mark Connolly. Dundalk had been hoping they could extend the big Clones man’s loan deal. But once the new Dundee United manager clearly indicated Mark was not featuring in his plans, then Dundalk knew Connolly was beyond their reach.

Dundee United have been paying a good chunk of Connolly’s wages while he was at Dundalk. The task facing Stephen O’Donnell was that Dundalk would simply be unable to meet the wages Mark was on at Dundee United.

The Scots wanted Mark Connolly off their books. It would have meant Dundalk giving Mark a two and a half year contract plus a considerable weekly wage which the club could simply not afford.

The plain facts are that it would have meant Dundalk paying their former centre half possibly twice what the other players at Oriel are getting and forking out that money for over two years.

To make it simple and clear Dundalk just could not have afforded Mark Connolly.I was very sorry to see Mark go as he was by far the best centre half in the League. He established himself as a real leader in the Dundalk dressing room.

It’s a fact that he was so similar to Chris Shields on and off the field. It was uncanny. He would nearly die for the shirt, such was his commitment.

Thus when I and others in the media spoke to Stephen O’Donnell after the Finn Harps game, he had to know Dundalk were out of the reckoning.

But he never gave away anything. O’Donnell is a very nice man. But he’s clever too. He can say a lot. But you might get very little info from him if that’s what he decides.

I grilled him in a post match interview with other reporters there on the Connolly situation. Many managers would often become aggressive with me and my line of questioning.

When I follow the tack of what he is saying and he won’t give me the answer I’m looking for, I will question him further. Instead of the situation getting tense Stephen smiles and sometimes rolls his eyes to the sky knowing I won’t give up.

He would rightly say nothing to me about how Dundalk lost Connolly. The Dundalk boss said the club did make their offer for Connolly but others had better offers. That of course, was Derry City.

When I suggested it was a fact Dundalk just could not afford Connolly. The Dundalk boss was not going to speculate on what Derry City had offered. All he would say was that Mark had been great for Dundalk.

Asked if he was unhappy that the board were not prepared to pay out the big money needed to keep Connolly at Oriel he said absolutely not. He said the board at Oriel have been superb all the way since he arrived at Oriel. He said Dundalk made their best offer for Connolly but it was not to be.

I asked the Dundalk boss if Ruaidhri Higgins contacted him, he said he had. Stephen said football is football and nothing would change in that regard. He said he and Ruaidhri are great friends.

I said to Stephen the facts are Higgins swooped once Dundalk was out of the picture. He said it’s in the past and Mark Connolly is now a Derry player.

Dundalk come out of all this with a lot of credit and my respect for Stephen O’Donnell grows by the week. Dundalk have a strict wage limit bracket which they will break for nobody.

Had they done so it would have caused considerable tension throughout his squad and it would have put huge financial pressure on a club that this season is running very well on the spending limits they have.

Dundalk have now been left without one of their regular centre half positions with the departure of Mark Connolly. O’Donnell refused to tell me who was going to be his regular centre half in place of Connolly, as he did not want opposing managers to know.

Mark Connolly told Derry local radio station that he did not know over the previous weeks where he was going to be and what was going to be happening. But he said that after speaking to Ruaidhri Higgins and the Derry City assistant manager Alan Reynolds who flew to Dundee to get their man eight days ago, that it was an easy decision after he spoke with them.

Mark said they laid out the plans for Derry and what would be happening going forward. He said moving forward with his wife and family was top of the list for him. He said it was a much easier decision after he spoke with the Derry manager.

Mark explained that the breakthrough came after Ruaidhri Higgins spoke with his wife. Mark has two children and his wife is from Scotland. He says it would take a massive decision for them to uproot. But after speaking to Ruaidhri Higgins, face to face, Mark’s wife was very happy to move.

The schooling for the couple’s two children would be sorted by the club in conjunction with Mark and his wife, as would the housing in Derry. Mark says once that was sorted it was an easy decision for him to move.

Mark says he wants to help in the dressing room at the Brandywell as a leader. He says there is a lot of talent in the Derry dressing room.

Ruaidhri Higgins says he was in the market for a centre back. He said he would have been foolish had he not explored the option of signing Mark.

Mark confirmed he was at the Brandywell on a two and a half year contract. He says he wants to win leagues and cups and play in Europe. Mark paid tribute to Dundalk supporters and the club in general for his short time there as well.

As already stated Mark returns to Dundalk and Oriel on Friday with Derry. The Foylesiders have the best away record in the League. Dundalk have the best home record.

On Friday night Dundalk got their 10th win in a row. If they are going to beat Derry they must be fast out of the blocks and get an early goal. Mark Connolly says he wants to help Derry to win the league this season as it’s 25 years since the title resided at the Brandywell.

After the Derry game Dundalk have three games away from home. That’s against Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers And Sligo Rovers. Dundalk just have to win the Shamrock Rovers game and also a draw and a win in the other two. Dundalk have won only two games in total away from home this season.

Unless they kick that habit now, they will not catch Shamrock Rovers. They may even slip down the table a bit and could slip out of the European places. The month of August is a critical one for Dundalk’s overall season.

Meanwhile while over in Dundee last Monday week, Ruaidhri Higgins signed attacking midfielder Declan Glass from Mark Connolly’s club. He is on a year long loan. Derry have also signed Cian Kavanagh on an 18 month contract deal from Waterford.

Man of the match on Friday, Greg Sloggett told me after the game that the most important thing was that Dundalk were through to the next round. He said they had not played well in the first half. But he said Dundalk came out in the second half with the determination to take the initiative. He said he was delighted to get the first goal.

Greg says he was delighted with the cross he got from Ryan O’Kane which allowed him to put away his second and Dundalk’s fourth goal of the game. Greg revealed that he did not ever get a brace of goals in a professional game until last Friday.

Greg says Longford did put it up to Dundalk, and that they were not pressing the midlands club with enough intensity.

He says Dundalk made amends in the second half once they got the first goal. Greg says the substitutions really worked in the second half. Ryan O’Kane, Joe Adams and John Martin did particularly well.

Greg says it’s very hard for people to estimate the value and role the substitutions make in a game. Greg said that the team definitely lost something with Stephen O’Donnell and his assistant Pat Gregg not being in the dug out because of a one match ban.

But Greg says there was enough experience in the dressing room with Dave Mackey and Liam Burns there. Greg says with these two and the experience there is among senior players in the dressing room itself the team were able to cope fine.

He says there is such strength and depth in the backroom staff that the team were able to get on with things and qualify for the next round of the cup. Greg says the cup is a hugely important competition.

The Dundalk midfielder added that they want to get to the final and go on and win it. He said the last time they got there in 2020 they won it but there were no supporters because of Covid. Greg says Dundalk have had a taste of winning the cup and that they want to win it again, but this time in front of a full house.

Andy Boyle says the main thing was that Dundalk got through after the win against Longford. He says he was not worried at any stage that they were not going to do anything but win. Boyle says Dundalk were full value for their win.

Andy says it’s massive that Dundalk go on a good cup run. He says the players all agreed before the game that the FAI cup final was the showpiece event in the soccer calendar and that they want to be there when it comes around. Andy says when you are playing and are not one of the teams in the cup final it really does hurt.

Boyle noted how cup finals are much better if you can share them with the fans, family and friends. Andy wished Mark Connolly all the best. He says players come and go.He said the club has enough players to cover every position.

Andy says there will be needle in the Derry game at Oriel on Friday. But he says that will have nothing to do with the fact that Derry have signed so many ex Dundalk players. Andy says it will be because it’s second v third as both teams try to catch Shamrock Rovers.

As Mark Connolly’s departure from Oriel was confirmed, Stephen brought three new players to Oriel. They have brought Runar Hauge in on loan from Hibernians. Alfie Lewis has been signed from Plymouth Argyle. They have also signed former Sligo Rovers player Robbie McCourt. Mark Hanratty has also departed the club.

Robbie Benson has been missing for the past two games. He is expected to return against Derry City on Friday.

On the European front, all three League of Ireland teams won their games. Shamrock Rovers beat Bulgarian side Ludogorets in a champions league qualifier. But they lost the tie on aggregate and now move to a Europa League qualifier two legged game. St Pat’s held the Norwegian side Mura to a scoreless draw out in Norway.

The aggregate score was 1-1. The goals were scored in the previous game at Inchicore. Pats went through to the next qualifying round of the Europa Conference League when they beat Mura in a dramatic penalty shoot out.

Sligo Rovers also progressed in the Europa Conference League when they beat Motherwell 2-0 at the Showgrounds. They won the tie 3-0 on aggregate.

Have a safe week everybody. Please remember to look after each other and to be careful out there.

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