Dundalk FC manager Stephen Kenny (Pic: Ciaran Culligan)
Stephen Kenny stands on the verge of greatness. His eighth FAI Cup final as a manager, victory over Cork City on Sunday would see the Dundalk FC supremo on to eight major honours at the club, and level with Jim McLaughlin’s record haul.
It would, perhaps, be the sweetest triumph as just the fourth double in the club’s history looms large, as well as the fact that it comes in the aftermath of his first major rebuild job. As many as 10 of the players he recruited since winning the title in 2016 claimed their first league medals recently.
Kenny turned 47 on Tuesday and is at the end of his sixth season at the club, yet he continues to build an unparalleled dynasty. Has any other manager achieved what he has so consistently over such a concerted period of time? It’s doubtful, and, for challengers, the frightening part is that his medal hungry crusade remains all consuming.
“It’s been a brilliant season and the players want to finish it off on a positive note,” he says.
Though there is a feeling that this is only the start for the current crop, the majority of whom are contracted for next year, and, in some cases, beyond.
“The team has been very consistent all season. They’ve really grown and exhilarated and excited everyone in a major way.”
But Kenny remains humble and intent on encouraging the supporters to get behind his juggernaut. He speaks of a potential 40,000 turnout at the Aviva.
“It’s a special time for anyone from Dundalk and they must realise that you mightn’t get it again for 10 years because the club were 13 years without it (between 2002 and ‘15). You have to go and really get behind your team, and bring the ‘Cup back over Hill Street Bridge.”
There is a steeliness to his tone, though it’s tinted by confidence. Five of Kenny’s previous showpiece appearances have ended in defeat, including in the past two years so some hesitance is to be expected when specific questions are posed regarding how he intends to steer his team over the week to come. He admits that there will be changes of hotel and training bases, but little more.
The finals against Cork have been unique, he feels.
“I was involved in two finals with Derry where we won one 4-3 against St. Pat’s (2006) and the other was 2-2 and we lost on penalties against Bohemians (2008). There was 11 goals in the two finals.
“In the last three matches, there hasn’t been a goal in 90 minutes; all four goals have come in extra-time.
“They set-up to play in a certain way, to contain us, so it’s up to us to have the creativity to break them down. But that’s not to say that it won’t be different this time, they might have a go.
Praise was forthcoming for assistant manager Vinny Perth. A former player of Kenny’s, Perth’s role was officially made full-time at the start of the season, in line with the team’s training schedule being drastically overhauled.
They now train in the mornings and afternoons, the benefits of which have been reaped as the season has progressed, Kenny reckons, alluding to their championship winning run.
Though, if the desired outcome is achieved at Lansdowne on Sunday, mornings and afternoons could be out of bounds for a few weeks to come…