WOODVIEW Celtic are about to enter the biggest 10 days in the club’s relatively short history knowing that two wins in their next two games will secure them a league and cup double.
Victory over Carrick Rovers in their final game of the season on Sunday week will secure a first ever MDL Premier Division title for the Dundalk side. However they have an even earlier opportunity to write themselves into the history books when they face current holders Clones Town in Saturday’s Tully Bookmakers Challenge Cup final at Oriel Park.
And according to manager Gavin McKeever, it’s an opportunity that his players are not willing to pass up.
“There’s no doubt we are delighted with where we are”, he said. “It’s an old cliché but we’re just taking one game at a time. We know we’ve won nothing yet but it’s in our hands and we are buzzing at the minute”.
Beaten just twice in 21 league outings this term, Woodview are going into the game high on confidence. McKeever’s only headache revolves around picking 11 players from a squad brimming full of talent.
“At the start of the season, I said to our chairman Kevin Magee that the reason we kept falling short in the past was because our squad was too small”, said McKeever. “We’ve kept all of the the squad that Kevin put together and brought in the likes of Deco Moran, Tiarnan Mulvenna, Gavin Macken and Stefan McKevitt. Alan Larkin has also been playing every week and he’s made a big difference.
“There was a time in January when it looked like we could lose Tiarnan and Mickey O’Kane to Shelbourne. We didn’t want to see them go but even if they had I think we still had enough in the squad to get us through the rest of the season.”
The depth of quality in his panel was evident in last week’s 2-0 win over Trim Celtic at Moorland when Conor Murphy and Micheal Bergin slotted in seamlessly for Shane English and Alan Larkin. The Woodview boss states that he is facing a tough dilemma over who starts the final.
“I don’t think I can say what my best 11 is”, he said. “With the lads in our squad I don’t think we could say ‘that’s our best starting line up’. If you look at Paul Warnock, he has made the left-back position nearly his own but Conor Murphy has given me a real problem with the way he has been playing recently.”
Tiarnan Mulvenna’s fitness and Owen Armstrong’s availability are McKeever’s only concerns ahead of the show-piece occasion. Mulvenna limped off against Rock Celtic two weeks ago with a hamstring injury and is rated 50/50 to be fit in time. Meanwhile Armstrong, who was sent-off in the same game, faces an anxious wait to see if he will be suspended for the Clones match.
“We’ll give Tiarnan every chance to make it”, said McKeever. “He has seen the physio and we will have to see how he comes through at training on Thursday night. Luckily we will have Stephen Grimes available again. He has been missing for a while but he is back and is capable of changing any game so their possible loss will be offset by his return”.
Woodview have already recorded two wins over Clones Town this season. On the opening day of the campaign, McKeever’s men won 4-3 in Monaghan before sweeping the cup holders away with a 7-0 win in the corresponding fixture at DkIT.
“You can never tell what sort of performance they are going to put up”, said the Woodview boss. “Since the 7-0 defeat they have added two or three players to their squad so we won’t really know what they are about until the game gets started”.
The most notable addition to the Clones ranks is former Dundalk midfielder Paul Shiels. The softly spoken Monaghan native played a key role in the Lilywhites’ promotion for the First Division in 2008 and will add undoubted quality to the Clones midfield. However McKeever has hailed his engine room duo of Alan ‘Ducka’ Larkin and Paul ‘Beeny’ McArdle as the best in the Meath and District League.
“Ducka Larkin knows the game inside out and he has the most experience of anybody in our squad”, said McKeever. “They compliment each other very well. Beeny wins the ball and gives it to Ducka. He dictates and controls games. For me, our midfield is the strongest area of the team. “
That is some compliment when you consider that Woodview have the striking prowess of Mickey O’Kane in their team. The former Dundalk player poses a real goal threat for Woodview and McKeever was fulsome in his praise of the ace marksman.
“Mickey’s a match winner and I think, on his day, he is the best junior football player in Ireland. The thing about Mickey is that you can ask him to play anywhere and he will do it just as good as he will up front. Against Trim in the semi-final we asked him to play centre-back and he was unbelievable. It’s a pity for him that he didn’t get his move to Shelbourne but we are delighted to have kept him.”
League and cup success would end a fairytale first year in charge for McKeever. The former player took over the reins from Kevin Magee at the start of the season, winning his first 12 league games on the trot. Woodview enter the final as hot favourites to beat the holders but McKeever insisted he is taking nothing for granted.
“The club has just celebrated 20 years and it would be a very nice way to finish it off. Playing the final at Oriel Park will make it feel like a home game and hopefully everybody involved with junior football in Dundalk will come out and support us. It’s our first top flight cup final and everybody is looking forward to it and we will have no excuses if we don’t win the cup”.
The Woodview manager also paid tribute to his backroom staff of Alan Todd (assistant manager), Christy Robinson (physio), Tommy McConville and Davy Flynn for “their wonderful assistance throughout the season”.