Meenan keeping his eyes on prize
Winger hungry to reap rewards of further success with Dundalk
Published 17/04/2015 | 02:30
When Darren Meenan walks out of the tunnel at Tallaght Stadium this evening, he will know exactly what is at stake.
The immediate concern is very basic. Dundalk, the defending champions and league leaders, face Shamrock Rovers, their likeliest challengers, and even though we are only a quarter of the way through the season, the importance of this fixture cannot be underestimated.
For Dundalk, victory would extend the gap between themselves and Rovers from four points to seven as well as reinforcing their psychological advantage over a team they have had the measure of for two years.
Yet if you think the only thing that goes through a League of Ireland footballer's head before a game like this is wins and losses then you'd be sorely mistaken. First and foremost, Meenan is the father of two children, the family's breadwinner and while football may be a passion, it is also his profession.
So he knows. He knows he has to play well to stay in the Dundalk team, knows that Dundalk need to keep winning if they are to qualify for Europe and avail of the prize-money which bankrolls a League of Ireland club's season.
"I have been around the league, played for a right few clubs over the years and know that every year you have to prove yourself if you want to get a better deal for the following year," he says.
"So if you are not playing well then you are not going to get a new contract. That's only natural. It's up to yourself then, to be hungry. Everyone in this team knows they need to be motivated. We are all pushing one other to improve which makes things a lot easier."
If the self-driven nature of Dundalk's dressing room is understandable, given how wages in the Premier Division vary starkly from those teams near the top of the table and those in the bottom half, then they don't take into account additional factors.
Namely that in a club with a storied history, they want to leave their own legacy. "No Dundalk team has won the league two years on the trot," Meenan says. "Our aim is to change that statistic."
And after seven games, they are certainly on the right track.
Only Limerick have held them to a draw and with everyone else succumbing to the Louth side's powerful blend of attacking flair and defensive frugality, some independent viewers believe a second, successive title is inevitable. Yet Meenan is reluctant to draw a similar opinion.
He knows this league and remembers how Sligo started the defence of their title with eight straight wins in 2013 and then fell apart. Plus there is a respect for Rovers and Pat Fenlon, Cork and John Caulfield.
"This is going to be tight league, this year, no doubt. All the teams are even enough in terms of ability. I think whoever wins the big games will be the ones who will prevail at the end of the season.
"What we have is a belief that we can go and beat teams. We don't think too far ahead or look beyond anyone. Whoever we play, we pay every team the same respect. Last week it was Drogheda, who came with a game-plan and executed it well.
"They were defensive but they were also clever and it is up to us to think of ways to break teams down. This week it is Rovers, a side who have not conceded at home yet this year. You have to respect that."
And then you have to try and beat that.
"We have to believe we can do so," Meenan said. "Yes, it will be tough. Yes, I rate them and I know they have loads of quality players. But we have good players, too."
Men who need to put food, as well as bread, on the table.