Saturday 23 September 2017

Dundalk ponder pitch issues as cup final excitement builds

Stephen Kenny, Dundalk manager
Stephen Kenny, Dundalk manager
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

It's a big month for Dundalk Football Club, not just a big week.

Sunday's FAI Cup final with Cork gives Stephen Kenny's team a chance to join an elite collection of teams to have achieved the domestic double.

The club have longer-term ambitions too, but they are complicated by a dispute over the lease on their Oriel Park ground with former owner Gerry Matthews.

They cannot apply for government grants until they sort out an issue which revolves around a Youth Development Centre constructed on the site under his watch. Attempts at mediation have failed to secure an agreement.

Back-to-back league titles have boosted the Dundalk coffers, but they know that the substantial cost of refurbishing their dated home will devour profits.

And later this month, tests on their artificial pitch will determine what course of action is necessary in that department heading into 2016. The purchase of a hybrid pitch - which is made of synthetics and grass - is one option that is being considered.

However, the club's hierarchy are reluctant to plough large sums of money into the venue without control of the lease. The delay could damage their prospects of hosting next year's Champions League qualifier in the town and pose larger questions.

It's a niggling concern in the background but, in the dressing-room, the focus is on adding another trophy to the cabinet.

Local officials estimate that in the region of 10,000 fans will travel from the border town to the Aviva on Sunday, and Kenny (right) is thrilled by the excitement that his young group have generated.

"Because we were seven years in the First Division, you lose a generation of support, people lose interest," said the manager.

"You hear people say at times, 'we never gave up but we stuck it out for sheer loyalty.' For them to get big nights here, to go to your national stadium for a cup final - that's a big reward for putting in the hard yards."

"You can see what it means to people here. That hasn't always been the case for League of Ireland clubs, you had to fight for the right to be noticed in the provinces with different sports and things.

"But here, this is definitely a football town. Obviously you wouldn't have thought so a couple of years ago, there was only 300 at the matches, at the end of the (2012) league campaign or whatever. Now, you see a whole new generation of support identify with the players in a major way."

Kenny's main concern is the fitness of skipper Stephen O'Donnell, who was withdrawn in the first half of last Friday's win in Bray as a recurring groin problem was causing him pain. The Galwegian, the key performer in the title-deciding win over Cork 12 months ago, will be given every opportunity to prove his well-being.

"He has a chance to play but it's too early to call now," said Kenny, speaking at the club's media day.

"We are not reliant on any individual; that's the good thing about this team."

Irish Independent

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