Kenny out to banish demons of 'The Cross'
When Stephen Kenny arrives in Turner's Cross tonight for a mouthwatering, crunch title clash with Cork City, his thoughts will inevitably drift back to November 18, 2005.
That was the night a league crown so painfully drifted away, when the Derry City team he then managed completely froze under the spotlight, incapable of coping with the tidal wave of emotion that swept down from the terraces to inspire Cork to victory.
If the memory of that meltdown has yet to fade, then tonight could be the moment when it is finally erased from his conscience.
This time he knows a defeat at 'The Cross' won't cost him the title, but is also fully aware of how a victory could go a long way towards helping his team win one.
Top of the league and three points clear of tonight's opponents, Dundalk arrive in Cork in a rich vein of form, having won 12 and drawn two of their last 15 matches, their solitary defeat coming at the hands of a fine Hajduk Split team.
And as each week passes, a sense grows that this could be their year. "The players have no fear," said Kenny.
Nor should they have. Aside from the confidence Kenny gives them, they also have a finely tuned game-plan which has yielded 70 goals from 14 different players this season, 14 of them arriving from the feet of Richie Towell.
While Kenny can field many stars, Towell remains their go-to guy, a player of considerable talent, whose ability to analyse the game is a chief strength, along with his talent for picking a pass, unlocking a defence and dictating the way games unfold.
Cork, for that matter, have a similar operator in Colin Healy and if the one-time Irish international can punish Dundalk the way Towell will Cork, then we could be in store for a treat.
Certainly Cork cannot be dismissed. Unbeaten at home this season, like Dundalk they are a team totally transformed by a change of manager, John Caulfield impressively instilling a fine work ethic into a group who grossly underachieved last year.
And again like Dundalk, there is a feelgood vibe riding through the club, partially explained by an emergence from the doldrums, partially by their manager's warm, engaging personality.
Yet neither Caulfield nor Kenny has reinvented the wheel in terms of how their teams are playing, each of them unafraid to go direct in their attacks, placing an emphasis on width when they go forward, while being ruthlessly effective from set-plays.
"Dundalk may be odds-on favourites for the league, but they are coming to Cork, so we need to see if we can put in a good performance," said Caulfield.
"It's incredible that when you lose one game (as they did last week against Bohemians), people write you off, so it is an opportunity for us to step up to the mark and put it up to Dundalk.
"We've come from a situation where we haven't been in contention at all for the last couple of years, to a situation where we now have a real, genuine chance of qualifying for Europe.
"This is the biggest game of the season so far. There is an opportunity and an onus on the whole squad to step up to the mark and put in a big performance."
Infinitely more important than the match, however, is the positive news surrounding the health of Brian Lenihan, Cork City's young full-back, who lost consciousness in City's 2-0 defeat to Bohs last Friday.
"He came along to training yesterday to say hello to us and he's gone back in for a scan. Everything looks okay and he's on the road to recovery," said Caulfield.
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