There all the way - Dundalk FC supporters at Coffee Time last week. (Pic: Darran Rafferty)
The excitement has been quietly building in Dundalk over the past couple of weeks, ahead of this year’s ‘Cup final. Fans are talking up the chances of Dundalk “doing the double” for a second time under Stephen Kenny.
For Dundalk fans, a trip to the Aviva at this time of the year is starting to become a habit. The past two years the trip has ended in heartbreak - this year, however, the mood is optimistic.
For die hard fans like Stevey McMullan [SM], Gerry Curtis [GC], Gerry King [GK] and Donal Sweeney [DS], who have followed the club for years, the trip to the Aviva is becoming something of a tradition. A week before the final and everyone knows what the plan will be for the morning of Sunday, November 4.
GC: The boys are going to Ma Brady’s that morning. There’s traditional music being played and we’ll go for our breakfast.
Then there’s a piper coming up the street with us to here [Coffee Time]. There’s a bus, Donal organises a bus, from here to the venue.
DS: That’s right, it’s all kicking off from half-eight at Ma Brady’s on the morning of the final. We’ll be up here at Coffee Time for approximately half-ten where we’ll be entertained by the proprietor [Stevey], then onto the bus and away!
As has been alluded to already, this won’t be these fans’ first rodeo. Gerry Curtis has probably seen Dundalk in more cup finals than most others.
GC: This will be the 60th anniversary of my first ever ‘Cup final with Dundalk. Dundalk beat Shamrock Rovers in 1958.
I’ve been following Dundalk since 1953.
I have to say, me first one was a crazy day because if memory serves me right, you had four games to play to qualify for the ‘Cup final. But we played five, because one of them was a no-score draw.
And we won the four other games, one-nothing. Hennessey, who was a wondeful penalty taker for Shamrock Rovers, missed one when he blasted it over the ‘bar.
So we won the 1958 ‘Cup, scoring four goals, conceding none and playing five games...
DM: So which was the toughest final?
GK: The last two, being beat by Cork [he says, laughing].
GC: I’d say winning the double in 2016 was the outstanding one.
DM: What are the feelings for this year’s final?
GC: I’d say the feelings are as they always were – optimistic. I think we can win. I hope we win – but I’m always optimistic. The final, it’s a once off – anything can happen.
GK: I think this year, we’re going to do it, because we’ve won it [the league] with three games to go, with the highest points total so far. We’ve beaten them [Cork] three times now.
SM: We’re in as favourites. We went in last year as favourites, it didn’t work out for us. Definitely, definitely this year, I would have to imagine , I think within the team itself, they know... Cork beat us last year, we were chasing the monkey the whole time last year. This year is different.
We are so far in front of, not just Cork, but the whole of the League of Ireland.
And that’s all down to Stephen Kenny and it’s all down to the way he manages his team and the dedication. The commitment that that team has is unbelievable.
Stevey highlights the players’ dedication.
SM: I see them, they come in here [Coffee Time] – you couldn’t give them a cream bun, they wouldn’t take it. They don’t take sugar in their coffee, they don’t take sugar in their tea.
Amidst the laughter, Stevey says: “I’m giving them free doughnuts here – they won’t take them! They’re looking at the protein bars and they’re saying, “that’s not proper stuff”, and they’re hoking through and reading the labels – and that’s the way they are.”
DS: I’d add an air of caution to thing. You’d have to say and the boys mentioned correctly so, Dundalk are far better and a superior team than Cork and that’s been proven.
The league table doesn’t lie. But as Gerry mentioned earlier, Gerry Curtis, it’s all on the day. Cork have nothing to lose and they could go gung-ho at this and hope for the best and heaven only knows what will happen on the day.
But if you’re looking at the team on paper, and if one was a betting person, you’d be certainly be putting your money on Dundalk. But we’ll wait and see what happens.
Hopefully Dundalk will do it, of course.
In light of the club’s achievements under Stephen Kenny, those present were asked if they thought a statue of Stephen Kenny should be carved out of the Cooley Mountains. After the laughing died down, a couple of important points were made.
SM: I’ll tell you what you have to do with Stephen Kenny. Tie him down for 10 more years.
And keep the FAI and all them English and Scottish teams away from him. That’s all we want [laughing]. Ten more years of Stephen.
GC: Whether you put a statue up of him or don’t, he’s done wonderful work, he really has.
But we’ve had wonderful managers previously. We have 13 titles. We’ve 10 ‘Cups. We’re 100 years in existence. And we’re now chasing Rovers, who are the league specialists, they’ve 17 leagues, so we’re chasing them. They’re the ‘Cup specialists too, but they haven’t won it in 31 years [laughter from everyone].
So what I’m saying is, do we put somebody up on a pedestal? We had Jim McLaughlin who did wonderful things, Turlie O'Connor won a double with us as well. Jim McLaughin won a double. Please God, come Sunday, it’ll be the first time we’ve a man whose done a double-double. And maybe we’ll move the Maid of Erin and put him up on it [laughing].
DS: I will say one thing regarding Stephen Kenny, what he has done for the club has been wonderful over the last number of years, I think everyone would agree with that.
One thing that has irked me is that, I don’t believe he gets the recognition he deserves outside of the country for what he has done here.
He has won four league titles in the last five years and a ‘Cup.
And you have to remember too, the year he came to the club, his first year here with Dundalk, he came second to St. Pat’s.
No matter what league you’re playing in, that’s a phenomenal record. And it hasn’t been recognised outside of the country.
GK: And the same with getting us into the rounds in Europe.The lads spend some time explaining why they feel Stephen Kenny’s - and the club’s - achievements have not been recognised internationally, nationally and even locally, by Louth County Council.
But one gets the feeling that it won’t keep them down. Coming over the hill on Sunday night with the cup is all that is on their minds.
GC: I always love to see the ‘Cup come over Hill Street Bridge.
It’s wonderful. And the last time we brought it over the bridge, we didn’t arrive here until after 11 o’clock, but it was immaterial what time we arrived at, there was still thousands on the street.
With the calibre of fans that Dundalk has, its hard to see this year being any different.
C’mon the town!