Gavin McLaugh


Gavin McLaugh

Tolka Park is the next stop off for Stephen Kenny’s title chasing Dundalk as the Lilywhites travel to face a rejuvenated Shelbourne side on Friday night.

Shels have taken 14 points from the last eight games since Johnny McDonnell replaced Alan Matthews in the hot-seat in May.

At the time the Drumcondra club were sitting planted to the bottom of the table but under McDonnell they have enjoyed a revival and following Sunday’s 1-1 draw away to Bray Wanderers they now sit two points ahead of basement side Bohemians.

Dundalk centre-back Andy Boyle spent two seasons at Tolka Park, making 64 appearances and helping Shels to the First Division title in 2011.

The Lilywhites won the the corresponding fixture 3-1 in March but the 22-year-old, speaking after Friday night’s 3-1 win over Shamrock Rovers, is expecting a much stiffer battle this time around.

“Shels won three games on the trot recently which is nothing to be sniffed at and Tolka Park is a tough place to go to”, said Boyle.

“The surface isn’t great up there”, he added. “It won’t really suit our style but we’ve shown that it’s not all about playing pretty football. We can also grind out results.”

The latest example of Dundalk’s resilience came in the win over Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park.

A Pat Hoban brace put Dundalk in the driving seat but Karl Sheppard’s 44th minute strike set the cat amongst the pigeons going into the half-time interval.

However Dundalk responded in style and when Kurtis Byrne powered home a third goal in the 53rd minute, the Lilywhites never looked in danger of being clawed back.

“You would have thought that the goal before half-time would have knocked the stuffing out of us but we after the third goal we were resolute”, remarked Boyle.

“Rovers bombarded us with long balls but that’s not splitting you open and bar a deflected chance that Peter Cherrie turned round the post they never really troubled us.”

The win leaves Dundalk just a single point behind leaders St Patrick’s Athletic and Boyle feels that the result may now change the opinions amongst many pundits that Dundalk are not genuine title contenders.

“After tonight people might start to take notice of us”, he said. “At the start of the season nobody would have tipped us to be where we are. Even up to last week people weren’t taking us seriously but we’ll get more credit after beating Rovers.”

Boyle continued, “It’s getting a bit more surreal as the weeks go on but we’re there on merit. As a group we’ll just keep plodding along and if we keep picking up victories like this then who knows where it will take us.”

One major attribute that this Dundalk side possess is team spirit. Boyle said it was the best he had ever witnessed in a dressing room and he feels it could prove to be a vital factor in the run in to the end of the season.

“We come in and train hard four to five times a week”, he remarked. “It’s a big commitment but we enjoy it. We really have a great bunch of lads and we get on with each other. The team spirit is great and that can only help us.”

The performance of the team on the pitch has been matched by the support off it. After a season to forget in 2012, Dundalk fans have once again found a reason to smile.

The atmosphere at the Carrick Road ground was electric on Friday night while the travelling support have also been a joy to witness this season, drawing huge praise from Stephen Kenny in particular.

And with six of Dundalk’s final 10 games to be played at home, Boyle is hoping that the Oriel roar can help his side achieve what many would have believed to have been an impossible dream.

“It has been great for the people of the town”, he said. “The supporters tonight were great and made a big difference. Nobody wants to come and play us at Oriel Park now because it’s a bit of a fortress.

“We know that we’re right in there but we’re taking each game as it comes”, he added. “We’re not going to go and shout from the rooftops that we are going to do this or that. We’ll just take it as we go and we’ll see where we end up.”