Sunday 24 September 2017

Dundalk on brink of historic treble

Stephen Kenny: Closing in on his team’s ‘priority’ of retaining the league title. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Stephen Kenny: Closing in on his team’s ‘priority’ of retaining the league title. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Sean Ryan

Since the League of Ireland split into Premier and First Divisions in 1985, no club has managed to win the Premier title on three successive occasions, and that is the piece of history which Dundalk are hoping to achieve when they host Bohemians at Oriel Park this evening (7.0).

Prior to the split, Cork United (1940-'43) and Waterford (1967-'70) managed the three-in-a-row of league titles, while Shamrock Rovers managed four in a row - two before the split and two immediately after (1983-'87), so Dundalk will be in exalted company if they manage what manager Stephen Kenny has described as his team's "priority" this season.

When he was appointed manager in December 2012, Kenny inherited two players - Chris Shields and John Mountney - who are still first-team regulars, and of the players he signed that season a further five are also regulars - Andy Boyle, Dane Massey, Stephen O'Donnell, Darren Meenan and Brian Gartland - making up a Magnificent Seven who have helped bring unprecedented success to Dundalk in the past three years.

Each year Kenny has added quality players so that the present squad is undoubtedly the most talented and strongest the club has ever had. However, the price of success is the present overload of games, which is proving the real test of the players' fortitude.

After their disappointing, but thrilling 2-1 defeat by Zenit St Petersburg last Thursday, Dundalk have to pick themselves up for the visit of Bohs, who are never easy opponents and were the only team to beat them in the league last year, a 2-1 home defeat that probably still rankles with the proud Lilywhites.

While captain Stephen O'Donnell will miss out as he recovers from a hamstring strain, Kenny hopes to have an otherwise full-strength squad to select from. A victory today would allow him to rest some players for the games against St Patrick's Athletic (Tuesday) and Galway United (Friday), before the following week's big fixtures away to Zenit and the FAI Cup final against Cork City in the Aviva.

Don't expect Bohemians to make this a straightforward victory march. With three wins in their last five games, they are no pushover, and Dundalk will have to be especially alert to deadball specialist Lorcan Fitzgerald's deliveries, which have resulted in many important goals.

However, Dundalk, who have a knack of recovering quickly from setbacks, are taken to push all thoughts of tiredness aside, and claim the club's 12th league title in style.

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