SSE Airtricity League Premier Division

Title not a two-horse race, insists Dundalk FC manager Stephen Kenny

Bookies have the Lilywhites and Cork City well clear of the rest

Caoimhín Reilly

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Caoimhín Reilly

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Title not a two-horse race, insists Dundalk FC manager Stephen Kenny

Dundalk FC manager Stephen Kenny. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)

Despite the bookies and pundits suggesting otherwise, Dundalk FC manager Stephen Kenny doesn't feel that this year's title race is a two-horse race.

Both the Lilywhites and Cork City have been installed as the firm championship favourites with Shamrock Rovers - who lead the chasing pack in the betting - priced as high as 12/1.

However, despite the pair sharing the top two spots in each of the past four-seasons, Kenny is adamant that there are other contenders this year, perhaps more than ever before.

"No, I don't really see it (as a two-horse race) at all because there's obviously a few other variables. Shamrock Rovers are very strong I feel. Waterford have assembled a very strong squad so you can't discount anyone because in 2013, we sort of came from nowhere; from a relegation play-off to nearly winning it and finishing second," Kenny said.

"A year later, Cork run from well down to challenge to the last day so you couldn't rule out someone doing that again because eight out of the 10 teams are full-time now and it's a marathon season, 36-games.

"You couldn't rule Derry, St. Pat's, Sligo or anyone out of putting a run together. It's that type of year I feel," he added.

With Patrick McEleney and David McMillan having left - last season's star men - Kenny believes there are big seasons ahead for his four 2017 additions, who he perceives will improve in their second campaign.

"We signed four players last season who were young; Seán Hoare, Jamie McGrath, Michael Duffy and then Dylan Connolly. They were all 21 and Jamie was 20 and they're a year on now so I feel they're all in a better position to be better this season. They all had good second-halves to last season and they'll have ambitions this season to really impress I feel."

McGrath was partnered with another new arrival, Krisztián Adorján, at the head of a midfield three against Cork last Sunday as the Lilywhites lined up with five offensively minded players.

That sort of attacking structure has been the bedrock of Dundalk's success throughout the Kenny era, however, it's something he feels that his side are adaptable with.

"The basis of our success and the things that we have won has been with five attacking players. Whether it was, going back to the first year, Towell and Kurtis (Byrne) and then Darren Meenan and Daryl Horgan, or else John Mountney.

"The second year we had either Ronan Finn or Towell, the two wingers and a centre-forward.

“Then (2016), we had a lot of different players together like McEleney and Finn or McEleney and Benson so we have always had that thing with five attacking players and one holding player, and we can move between them because we have three different ways of playing in midfield and we have always had.

"We can play 4-2-3-1 with one getting forward from that central position which could be, for example, say, Benson, or play with 1-1-1 in midfield which we did and that sort of took a lot of people a long time to work out.

"We have also played with a one and then a two (in front) which we played in the 2014 decider and we played that in the Cup final (2017) and these are things that are we can alter as we go on."

When asked about the Bray game, Kenny was somewhat coy, but he did point out the fact that their early-season meeting last year resulted in the Seagulls being awarded two penalty kicks. And, while Wanderers are odds-on for the drop, the Dubliner was insistent that his team not take them for granted.