From The Commentary Box

A new chairman, Director of Football and Keith Long can put Dundalk FC back on top, writes Gerry Malone

The Gerry Malone Column

Gerry Malone

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Gerry Malone

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sport@dundalkdemocrat.ie

A new chairman, Director of Football and Keith Long can put Dundalk FC back on top, writes Gerry Malone

Keith Long was a league title winner with Dundalk FC during his playing career. Could he now be the man to lead the club as manager? (Pic: Sportsfile)

Dundalk got their first league win since the programme restarted from the shutdown at the start of the pandemic.

Since the season resumed Dundalk have lost manager Vinny Perth and his two assistants, John Gill and Alan Reynolds. Before the resumption the club lost Ruaidhri Higgins to Stephen Kenny and the senior Republic of Ireland backroom team.

The reasons for Vinny’s departure have been well noted here. To me, his situation was made untenable by the current chairman, Bill Hulsizer, interfering in team selection in the run up to the departure.

Since then, Filippo Giovagnoli has been brought in to manage the team for the rest of the season. Basically Filippo was appointed to stabilise the playing situation at Oriel and the team.

Despite criticism of the likeable Italian’s coaching experience it does appear that he has done that in the very short term.

Two weeks ago he guided his team to a vital 2-0 win over Cobh in the Cup. 

On Friday night Dundalk halted their alarming slide down the table with a 3-2 win over Shelbourne.

SELECTION
The manager’s team selection did raise eyebrows with the omission of Gary Rogers in goals and the inclusion of Aaron McCarey. Aaron was brought in by Dundalk last season as cover for Rogers. The former Warrenpoint keeper is highly regarded by journalists covering the Irish League. And they have been very surprised that he has failed to make the breakthrough at Oriel.

The Monaghan man has played in a number of key games for Dundalk and last season saved a penalty in a Cup game with Waterford at the RSC.

But on Friday it was a surprise to see Gary Rogers being dislodged from the number 1 position. Gary is on a one-year contract and can walk at the end of the season as he could have done last season. 

And, overall, he has played very well for Dundalk since the resumption. Against Bohemians he was outstanding and saved Dundalk from a hiding.

But in the Champions League game against Celje he was singled out as being at fault for one of the goals. This, to me, was totally unfair as I believe that everybody from the club chairman Bill Hulsizer, through his interference in team affairs, right down to the then manager, coaches and players were responsible for an inept performance against a very inept team.

After Friday night’s game the manager was asked about McCarey’s selection. He said he did it as it gave him a chance to look at as many players in his squad that he can. This was a perfectly reasonable answer and it gave me a feeling that hopefully it was Filippo who was picking the team and that it was not being emailed to him from Florida.

Yes, it was a decision taken by the Dundalk boss and it showed he was in charge.

DEBATE
But the experiment of playing Aaron being a success is open for debate. Dundalk were very poor at coping with the set-pieces and while the back four must take full responsibility I was worried that Aaron was not in total control of his penalty area.

The Dundalk manager was honest in his assessment that his side were not great at picking up the set-pieces.

Brian Gartland put Dundalk in front on four minutes while Michael Duffy banged home a marvellous 25 yard shot to the net to put the champions 2-up after just 11 minutes.

Dundalk were playing in a different style, building up the attacks from deep at the back with McCarey sweeping his side forward with the long ball, which proved effective in allowing the midfield to latch forward and create openings.

But problems started on 20 minutes when a cross into the Dundalk box saw Daniel Byrne head home. The Shelbourne player was left completely unmarked and he could not believe his luck to score so easily. 

Shelbourne found gaping holes in the Dundalk defence and within four minutes they were level.

Brian Gartland was harshly adjudged to have fouled Ciaran Kilduff. Ex-Dundalk youth player Georgie Poynton fired home a super penalty that gave McCarey no chance. No goalkeeper would have stopped it. But the penalty decision came once again from indecision in the Dundalk defence.

Dundalk won the game early in the second half when they again quickly built from the back, a sign the new boss is having an influence. The ball came to Greg Sloggett 25 yards out from goal and, again, it was a goal out of the top drawer.
Sloggett has had a very stop-start season so far. He’s played in some but not in others. He had a big influence in central midfield on Friday and stamped his authority on the game.

Shelbourne came strongly back into the encounter and from crosses and set-pieces Dundalk were caught out badly. On one occasion the goalkeeper came for a ball that maybe he should have got but did not.

Andy Boyle, also back in the team, was just not his usual impressive self. Plagued by injury since he returned from the UK, the former skipper has just not been the player he once was. Whether he can get over the injury problems or not, Dundalk fans will be hoping he can. He is in contract for next season.

Boyle needs to be playing every week. He is a highly talented player but just has not done it at Oriel since his return home.
Brian Gartland was excellent. He scored his 50th League of Ireland goal; 30 of them have been for Dundalk.

When I suggested to him on Friday that there had been a problem at the back he was having none of it. He said he thought the defence and keeper were excellent.

Well, Shelbourne did nearly level right at the end when a cross from the right found an old ghost from the past, Karl Sheppard, nearly returned to spoil Dundalk’s night. The cross found him six yards out in front of an empty goal. Amazingly, he knocked the ball wide. Even I would have scored that!

CONSENSUS?
Everybody said how great a game it was but that’s not how I saw it. I was left worried by seeing Dundalk playing so well, only to concede two easy goals and very lucky not to concede more. Yes, Dundalk were very unlucky not to get more goals and yes they did play well. But Shelbourne should never have been allowed to get back into the game so easily.

Patrick McEleney once again had to be pulled from the game. This time he was injured in the warm-up. Patrick has been plagued with injury since he got hurt in the 2018 Cup final. The Derry man got the winner that day and he has played so well for Dundalk since then. However, he has missed many games through injury. Patrick is in contract next season which is good news.

David McMillan started his first league game since returning from Scotland. The striker replaced Pat Hoban who has been out injured since getting a knock in the warm-up for the Cobh game two weeks ago.

David did have one good effort but really did not have a huge impact on the game.

Michael Duffy was superb on the night and got the man of the match award.

But his contract is up at the end of the season. Teams north and south are chasing him as are sides in League One cross Channel.

The Dundalk manager clearly indicated after Friday’s game that the job was not his to give contracts to players in need of new ones. It’s the role of the owners.

But with the club being on autopilot and dysfunction for some time it appears little has been done to tie down players like Duffy.

The manager seemed to be much more confident than that. He said he was sure that the owners knew who were the important ones to re-sign for next season. Well, they had better know as the club needs Duffy and others in contract.

LOCAL LINKS
The owners need to build or put in place solid foundations locally. In other words, a management committee or an Irish board of directors to run the club in conjunction with the owners in America. Dundalk FC can’t be run from Florida and no Irish board will work with a chairman in America who thinks he can interfere with team selection etc. I repeat what I said last week, Bill Hulsizer must stand down.

A director of football must be appointed immediately and in conjunction with the owners tie up the contracts of the players who should stay next season. This director should be widely respected and have a high knowledge of the League of Ireland.

After that a new manager must also be brought in. No disrespect to the current boss the club again needs to bring in a highly talented League of Ireland manager who has had success and a great understanding of the game 

The incoming manager should be in at the end of the season but approached now. To me there is one man who can bring success back to Oriel next season. It’s a former Dundalk player who now manages Bohemians, Keith Long. This man can bring success to Dundalk immediately. He is capable with the right financial backing and a good administrative organisation behind him at running the club; well capable of bringing the league title back to Oriel in 2021.

Keith would be very reluctant to leave Dalymount. But if he sees the owners are serious about reorganising Dundalk from top to bottom and if he gets the salary he wants and a player budget that will have no restrictions he may well be tempted to leave. He must also be given a legal guarantee that there will be no interference from the owners into his job; then he could come.

Keith has taken Bohs as far as he can. With the Dundalk FC owners he must be given full control. And, again, Bill Hulsizer must also step down now. This would be a great gesture to whatever manager might come in.

It’s all ifs and buts here. Peak6 have to start their rebuilding of the club structure straight away. 

The new Director of Football should be in within the month. If the owners don’t do this then I would have to question their long-term interest in the club. 

Gartland has now scored 30 goals for Dundalk. He is nearing the end of his career but anybody with an iota of intelligence would have him as part of any management team next season. Brian is very loyal to his teammates and would not hear of my criticism of the defence on Friday. But I have heard him as a captain speak to the team like a manager when needed. In other words, he can separate himself from the rest of the team when needed and speak in a perfect coaching manner.

EUROPE
As for the Europa League second qualifying round clash on Thursday, Gartland says Inter-Club will be no pushovers. Brian was keen to point out they have nine Andorran internationals playing with them. Gartland also alluded to how the Republic of Ireland very often struggle with the weaker sides like Andorra and Gibraltar.

Patrick McEleney should be fit for Thursday night’s game as will Pat Hoban. Should Dundalk win the club will collect €350,000 and the following week play against a team from Moldova, Sherriff.

Dundalk have been given special permission by the Irish government to fly to Barcelona, Spain; a country which requires 14 days of quarantine on return. However, once Dundalk drive straight to Andorra, a country that does not require tourists returning to Ireland to quarantine, then they will be fine. 

Dundalk can advance next Thursday but they will have to be at their very best. They must be able to deal with the set-pieces and the high ball into the box. If they don’t they will not win. But I think they will. 

HUMOUR
There was a good piece of humour after Friday’s game while the media were waiting for the post-match press conference with Filippo.

It was 15 minutes before he appeared. We had already learned he was on the phone. He was asked if he was talking to the chairman in Florida! Humorously and with a smile, he said it was with his wife and did not know when he would be talking to Hulsizer.

Sean Gannon was also on the bench on Friday. He has to be targeted by the owners to stay. The positive issue at least is that Peak6 could pay way more for a player than any Irish club and that includes champions-elect Shamrock Rovers.

The coronavirus figures for Louth were high last week. We saw 22 new cases alone for last Friday and Saturday. One day last week I counted 13 people with no masks in a business premises in the area. Some may have medical reasons for not doing so but for the vast majority they were simply selfish.

I was delighted to see one store down the country take groceries off a shopper in his 20s who claimed he had a right not to wear a mask.

Gardai were called and this young man got the shock of his life. 

Anyway, have a safe week. Look after yourselves and be careful out there.