Dundalk skipper Stephen O’Donnell has compared the Lilywhites’ 2013 odyssey to that of Jim McGuinness’ Donegal GAA team of recent years.
McGuinness took on the job as Donegal boss when gaelic football in the county was at its lowest ebb, transforming them to Ulster champions in 2011 before winning the All Ireland title last year.
There are certainly plenty of similarities to Stephen Kenny’s rein at Oriel Park. Kenny was appointed manager of the Lilywhites at the back end of last year, a season that saw the club almost go out of business and one that took a relegation play-off to save their Premier Division status.
Now, with just eight games to go, Dundalk sit just one point off the top of the table and in the quarter-finals of the FAI Cup.
And O’Donnell, who starred in the 2-0 win over league champions Sligo Rovers on Friday night, said that there was definitely a sense in the dressing room that this could be be a ‘special’ season for Dundalk.
“My father’s a Donegal man and I compare what has happened here to what happened with Donegal’s gaelic team”, said O’Donnell.
“A new manager comes in, there’s great belief, the whole place gets behind everybody and there is a feeling that something special might be happening.
“There’s a great buzz in the place”, he added. “If you told people this time last season where we’d be today they’d have laughed at you but you get stories like this in sport every now and again. Thats why sport is so great.”
Goals from Pat Hoban and Chris Shields did the damage against the Bit O’Red.
Hoban’s goal was his best of the season, an extraordinary volley, that left O’Donnell and most of the crowd in disbelief.
“It was a great goal. It wasn’t even a chance!”, said the Lilywhites captain.
“It shows the confidence that Pat has at the minute. Any time he gets near the goal he seems to score. The two Sligo centre-backs just couldn’t handle him.”
Dundalk’s leading scorer received a standing ovation when he was substituted in the 90th minute. It came just minutes after he left the Oriel Park faithful drooling by his work rate as he chased and harried the Sligo Rovers back four when they were in possession.
“The last couple of minutes he ran himself into the ground. He always does the damage and he deserved that ovation”, said O’Donnell.
Shields changed the pattern of the game when introduced as a substitute early in the second-half, launching into a fantastic recovery tackle just minutes before scoring Dundalk’s second goal.
“The first-half was very scrappy. It was a bit helter skelter and there were a lot of bodies in midfield. We matched up three versus three when Chris came on and his tackle really set the tone for the second-half and then he scored shortly afterwards”, said O’Donnell.
“He has a great attitude. He could have felt sorry for himself after being dropped following two great performances but he came on and was brilliant.”
The result moves Dundalk six points clear of the reigning champions in second place and keeps them firmly on the tails of league leaders St Patrick’s Athletic.
And O’Donnell couldn’t resist having a pop at those pundits who refuse to take Dundalk’s title bid seriously.
“I wonder what they’ll be saying now, it’s the pitch or something!”, he said.
“To be honest we don’t care what people say”, he continued. “It’s not a case of us against them. It’s maybe that we haven’t been getting the credit we deserve.”