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24 Sept 2022

The Commentary Box: Lilywhites showcasing their qualities on and off the pitch

The Commentary Box: Lilywhites showcasing their qualities on and off the pitch

Cameron McJannet of Derry City is tackled by Joe Adams. This was one of many great battles fought across the field during a thrilling contest at Oriel Park. (Photo: Sportsfile)

This game between Dundalk and Derry City was awaited for with great anticipation, particularly when it we found out the Foylesiders would have in their side Mark Connolly, the former on-loan centre half who was at Oriel from March until June.

But it was so many others who had the limelight shone on them, which allowed for all the right stories to be told. It highlighted the game of soccer in such a positive manner.

Sadly too, the ugly side of the game was displayed following Pat Hoban’s goal in injury time. One Derry City fan managed to get over the barrier and onto the tarmac beside the pitch. A small minority of Derry fans began some trouble on the terraces.

It seemed they were fighting with themselves as there were no Dundalk fans near them. Gardaí moved in swiftly and the situation was over as quickly as it began. Gardaí were forced to use pepper spray on a small number of people. They had their batons with them on the ready as well.

It’s not thought that any batons were used to quell the disturbance. Club stewards also helped to bring the situation under control. There were about 800 Derry supporters at the game. A tiny minority of the club’s fans were involved.

It’s the first time I have ever seen crowd trouble caused by Derry City fans inside a ground. The club have been in the league since the mid 1980’s. Their fans have always been welcomed to Oriel with open arms, as are Dundalk fans at the Brandywell.

There have been serious incidents close to the Brandywell, but never in the football ground itself. A number of years ago rocks and stones were thrown at two official Dundalk supporters’ buses.

Fans on board both buses were so lucky to escape serious injury. After that the club no longer sent official supporters’ buses to away games against Derry.

A number of years later a 16-year-old youth from Dundalk was struck on the head with an iron bar. It happened outside the ground. The Derry Club doctor checked out the youth and verified he was fit to travel home. His own bus had gone. He got a lift back to Dundalk with an adult fan.

Friday’s trouble at Oriel involving Derry supporters, no matter how small a group, does again raise questions about the security at the Brandywell. If a small group of fans can cause trouble away from home, there is a worry they could do the same at the Brandywell.

The PSNI are never used at the Brandywell to act as a preventer of trouble. This goes back to the days of the troubles and the understandable non acceptance of police into nationalist areas.

Derry have their own security management service at match nights in the Brandywell. It works fine and hopefully stays that way.

Some of the Derry media at the game told me that the club had in recent times had a small amount of young hooligan fans. Derry must get to grips with this immediately. Otherwise, more questions will be asked about how their home venue is policed.

It should not come to this. Derry is a very well-organized club. I’m sure they can root out the young hooligans that are causing trouble promptly.

The Derry Game

Dundalk were the better side throughout the game. But it was the visitors who took the lead on 11 minutes. Greg Sloggett lost the ball in the middle of the park. Joe Thompson put James Akintunde away in the clear.

He ripped the Dundalk defence asunder and shot past Nathan Shepperd. Dundalk lost Paul Doyle and Daniel Kelly through hamstring injuries. They will be out for at least a month.

The Lilywhites had their chances in the first half, as had Derry. Ryan O’Kane had a terrific game. He had a shot from the edge of the box saved well by Brian Maher.

Joe Thompson found himself clear near the end of the first half. Nathan Shepperd was off his line so quickly he dived at the Derry players feet and rescued Dundalk.

The home side had total domination in the second half. Alfie Lewis came on as a sub, he was one of Stephen O’Donnell’s new signings and had a terrific game. Robbie Benson also featured as a sub midway through the second half and helped to turn the screw on Derry even more.

The Lilywhites looked to be heading towards defeat as the game headed into injury time. As the clock went to 94 minutes Stephen Bradley got forward courtesy of an exceptional run down the right.

His cross caught the Derry defence napping. Pat Hoban sailed into the air as he went for the ball like a hunter white eagle. He met the pass with such precision and headed the ball to the net.

Dundalk had preserved their unbeaten record at Oriel and showed the Derry City manager Ruaidhri Higgins that they remain a big force in League of Ireland soccer, no matter what player he entices away from the club to play for Derry.

The Managers Views

Stephen O’Donnell said after the game he was so happy with his side’s performance that he would still have been content if they had not scored, as they were so good throughout the 90 minutes.

The Galwegian believed that Dundalk deserved their equalizer. He says his side got a grip on the game 10 minutes before half time and never lost it once in the second half begun.

He added that losing Paul Doyle and Daniel Kelly to hamstring injuries never deterred his side.
Of the goal, Stephen says it was a great cross by Stephen Bradley, finished via a superb header to the net by Pat Hoban.

The former midfielder exclaimed that Hoban is a very good passer of a ball. He works so hard and is always prepared to drop back when needed. The Dundalk boss says Hoban has the skill to beat any centre half to the ball.

Ironically this time it was Mark Connolly who he beat to the ball in mid-air. His header to the net was typical Pat Hoban.

Ruaidhri Higgins said his team had the hard work done as they had got to the 93rd minute in front. He stressed Oriel is an extremely difficult venue to come to as Dundalk had previously won 10 games in a row.

He said the Oriel Park men were playing into their goal scoring goals in the second half as well. The Former Lilywhite felt it was a poor goal to give away at the end too.

The Derry manager says his side were not great in terms of possession but that they stood up to the test, only to concede in injury time. He claimed Dundalk hardly created one chance in the second half.

Yet he accepted that Derry were forced to play much deeper as Dundalk pushed them back, such was their pressure.

Higgins says it was a highly competitive game involving two top teams. The Derry manager says it was nervy in the last 25 minutes.

Ryan O’Kane

Dundalk midfielder Ryan O’Kane says he felt the game was top class. But he says it was one they should have won. He says the team gave Derry a soft goal. But to his side’s credit, they kept plugging away and got the equalizer.

Ryan says that since Stephen O’Donnell came in, he has been helping him improve with his movement. The Dundalk midfielder nearly levelled just before half time when his shot was saved very well by Brian Maher.

Ryan says that all he can do when he comes on is express his movement and skill and this he is doing. Ryan noted Pat Hoban’s equalizer gave the team a massive lift. He believes as long as Dundalk can continue to be the dominant team in games, it will mean they will get positive results.

The young attacker thinks Friday’s game with Bohemians is a very winnable one. Ryan says Dundalk drew with Bohemians at Dalymount park earlier in the season. They also beat them at Oriel. Ryan says playing away against Bohemians on Friday night holds no fears for the team.

The local star in the team, O’Kane is getting much more first team football this season. He says his good development as a player is all down to the guidance of manager Stephen O’Donnell and assistant boss Pat Cregg.

He says the two have helped him out in all aspects of his game. The advice he gets when on the pitch and off it plays a huge part in his development as a player.

Ryan says he will just keep concentrating on his game and keep his head down in the process. Ryan is the only local player from the town in the first team squad.

He exclaimed Pat Hoban’s late equalizer gave him such a lift. He says Dundalk could have gone onto win the game if they were just given as little as five minutes more to get at Derry. He says Foylesiders were on the floor, and they could have been knocked out with a late winner.

Robbie Benson

Robbie Benson returned to the side coming on as a sub midway through the second half. He says it was great to get back playing after being missing for three weeks through injury.

He thought that Dundalk had the better of the game and that Derry created very little bar the goal they got. He says that Dundalk could have gone on and won the game.

Speaking of the equalizer, Robbie noted that the goal was vintage Pat Hoban, who time after time scores the big goals. Robbie says Pat is a great asset in the way he drops back into midfield, along with how he so moves swiftly forward which is phenomenal.

He sees Pat as a great help to him also in midfield when he drops into that slot. He says Hoban is a top-class player. Pat has been doing this all of his career.

Robbie added that the injury he picked up a few weeks before seems to be fine now. He added he thought it was a great idea to use the Derry game as a window to allow him to return to action.

Robbie says all of the substitutions the manager made did very well. Benson says the squad is used very well and the bench is very strong. He feels he is well able to make an impact when coming on as a sub.

Robbie believes the team have two very difficult games coming up with Bohemians and Shelbourne. He says that he feels confident that the team can move on from there to the cup game against Wexford.

A win over Wexford will lead them just another step closer to the Aviva Stadium which is where they all want to be.

He recalled how they had half a chance to go on for a winner on Friday night, but it was cleared away. But Benson feels that shows the great character in the team, as they just were not satisfied with the draw.

Robbie says Dundalk are only in the first year of their project and that the team will grow stronger and stronger. These words from Robbie Benson indicate how well things are at Oriel Park at the moment.

This Friday it’s Bohemians at Dalymount Park. I’m confident Dundalk can get the win. Have a good week and look after yourselves. Please remember to be careful out there.

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