McEleney's magic draws Maradona comparison
Dundalk 3 St Pats 0
Patrick McEleney likes to keep a low profile, but he is not making it easy for himself.
The hype around the Dundalk playmaker is only going to grow if he keeps making weekly entries to the Goal of the Season shortlist.
"He's a modest lad," said Stephen Kenny afterwards. "Patrick just wants to go and play. He's not one for headlines, he's very quiet and self-critical."
However, the Dundalk boss has struggled to contain his own belief in the 24-year-old's ability, suggesting at the start of this season that McEleney could be the most talented player he has ever worked with.
He provided further evidence on Saturday with an assist and two goals to take apart a St Patrick's Athletic side that is now rooted to the bottom of the table.
Kenny tried his best to keep a lid on the platitudes, but couldn't help saying what he was thinking after McEleney - who had created the opener for Ciarán Kilduff a minute before the interval - embarked on a mazy run that left a trail of players in his wake and then scooped the ball over the advancing keeper Conor O'Malley without breaking stride.
"I'm afraid to make comparisons," admitted Kenny. "We were saying, who could score a goal like that?"
Lionel Messi's name was jokingly put into the conversation.
"I wasn't going to say him," he replied, with a smile.
"Maybe the Argentinian before him. It was like that. It was a very unique goal, reminiscent of Maradona in the way he beat six players and chipped the keeper on the run. It was that type of goal.
"I don't know who can score a goal like that, to keep a low centre of gravity and beat the players in the way he did. It was something special."
Kenny knows that talking in such terms can be met with scepticism, but his point is that in this sphere McEleney is capable of doing things that are beyond many of his peers.
The Derryman has been urged to add goals to his game this term and he duly added his fourth of the league season to surpass his tally from 2016.
On this occasion, poor Saints defending allowed McEleney a one-on-one situation with Rory Feely.
It was no contest, as McEleney executed a trick that Feely was still recovering from as the Dundalk star was flicking the ball past the unlucky O'Malley, who had earlier kept the Saints in the match.
It capped a routine win for the hosts in the aftermath of last Monday's loss to Derry in Buncrana. That result affected McEleney, with Kenny believing that it spilled over into his first-half display on Saturday.
"He was trying too hard to make up for the defeat," explained the manager.
"He came in at half-time and we had to settle him down. He wants to get better and the challenge for him now is to stay injury free."
All eyes should be on Cork next Saturday , despite the ludicrous scheduling of the league's current marquee fixture 24 hours after a vital Irish World Cup qualifier and Dundalk will need McEleney to be at concert pitch against the league leaders.
Cork have taken 15 points from 15 to sit three clear of the defending champions and Derry also have a 100pc record with a game in hand.
Kenny still feels his team are a work in progress and a question about the Irish ambitions of Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan led to a lament about losing the Preston pair when Dundalk should be looking to go one better in Europe this year and make the Champions League group stages.
Dundalk have lost five of their last six games with Cork - including the season opener President's Cup - but Kenny is not accepting any talk of a balance of power shifting.
"We are the league champions on merit," he asserted. "We've won it the last three years and the last two times by 11 and seven points. It hasn't been as close as people have suggested.
"This year it might be closer and there might be more than two teams, but we would back ourselves to go and win in Cork."
St Pat's pipped Dundalk to the title in 2013 during Kenny's first year in charge, but they have regressed dramatically and one point from five games is relegation form.
Liam Buckley started with a 3-5-2 and switched when the game was up. He admits he is still trying to find the right formula with this group.
"I am concerned," he said. "Collectively we need to improve and, at the minute, we're struggling with our style of play."
Their derby date with Shamrock Rovers next Saturday will carry more weight than usual.
DUNDALK - Rogers, Gannon, Barrett, Gartland, Massey; Benson, Clifford (Shields 69); Mountney (McGrath 79), McEleney; Duffy; Kilduff (McMillan 76).
ST PATRICK'S ATHLETIC - O'Malley; Feely (K Byrne 56), Peers, Dennehy; Barker, Desmond, A O'Hanlon, Lunney, Bermingham; J O'Hanlon (C Byrne 56), Fagan.
REF - G Kelly (Cork).