Richie Towell strike gives Dundalk another day to remember
Dundalk 1-0 Cork City
Published 09/11/2015 | 02:30
Over an hour after his team had lifted the FAI Cup to complete a historic double, Stephen Kenny was asked if this was his best day in football.
"No no no," he replied, with a smile. "I will tell you when that comes."
It was an answer that offered an insight into his belief in this Dundalk side, a group that has a desire to keep improving as opposed to getting carried away by one achievement. That attitude drives their approach to work, and explains the outstanding levels of fitness that shone through as they recovered from a sloppy 90 minutes to dominate in extra-time and secure a deserved victory courtesy of Richie Towell's 28th goal of the season.
When they finished preparations on Saturday, it struck Kenny that they wouldn't be training together as a group until January. There was a sense of deflation about the fact.
"The season has ended too soon for us, we feel like we could go on for another 10 games," he said. "A lot of teams at the end of the season feel 'we'll take a rest' but this group were disappointed, they want to train more.
"It's been an epic season really and this is a reward for players with a good attitude. They are a very selfless group."
They headed back to Dundalk afterwards to enjoy an open-top bus after becoming the third Lilywhites group to scoop the two big domestic competitions in the same year.
The next challenge for Kenny is to keep the players that engineered the decisive move in the 107th minute. Daryl Horgan didn't show any signs of fatigue in the extra half-hour, and spotted an opportunity to hurt Cork by nipping away from Garry Buckley and embarking on a direct run into the box that culminated with a clever drag back for Towell, who dropped into space to collect and finish with trademark confidence.
A host of scouts were present to keep an eye on Dundalk's star duo and they will both be subject to attention in the coming weeks, although Towell's immediate priority is the birth of his first child. His post-match reflections indicated that he is keen to stay at a club where he has found happiness.
"We're going to enjoy tonight and another couple of days and then we'll probably - hopefully - get something sorted out sooner rather than later," says the former Celtic youth, who spoke as though he was also unhappy that a long off-season lay ahead.
"It's a very frustrating time for any League of Ireland player but it's something I'm going to have to get used to if I'm going to stay here.
"I love Dundalk, I think everyone sees that, the passion I have for the club and I'm sure the fans have the same passion for the players and for me. So it's a recipe for good things and I want to be a part of that.
"A lot of people think the lifestyle over there (UK) is better than what it is, and it's a bit of a myth. You can go over there and be unhappy and it's not what it's made out to be."
Horgan has never been across the water, and that's why the Oriel Park hierarchy feel there's a stronger chance of losing his services. "I don't know," replied the Galwegian, when asked what his next move would be. "If it's Ireland it will be 100pc Dundalk."
The goalscorer, Towell, revealed afterwards that he'd approached Horgan before extra-time for a prescient chat.
"I said to him 'Horgs just give me one chance'," he said. "He was getting into great spaces and I just wanted one opportunity and then I was confident I was going to put it away."
That came after a pep talk which Kenny deliberately staged right in front of the noisy Dundalk fans at the Bath Avenue end of the ground. "The energy of the crowd invigorates you, it re-energises you and gives you a feeling for it," explained the manager, who did something similar ahead of Derry's extra-time triumph in 2006.
His take on the match was straightforward. "It wasn't scintillating today, but it was still good enough to win." Few of the 25,000 in attendance could have reasonably argued with that viewpoint. Cork made it extremely hard for their bogey side, yet they never really looked like scoring in open play with set pieces the main source of excitement for their followers.
They did respond well to a good start from Dundalk, with John Caulfield's hard workers having the best of it in the period before half-time and giving Gary Rogers some nervous moments.
The industrious Kevin O'Connor, selected next to Liam Miller in midfield, was a busy presence and Alan Bennett was excellent at centre-half.
There was a blow for Dundalk when full-back Sean Gannon limped off with an injury, but the reshuffle allowed Kenny to bring pre-match injury doubt Stephen O'Donnell into midfield with Chris Shields switched to right back.
O'Donnell hurt his groin after his introduction and required serious treatment at the end of regulation time, but he was still a huge influence. "An incredible character," says Kenny.
His centre-halves Andy Boyle and Brian Gartland were rock solid throughout, with the latter getting the better of a ding-dong battle with Mark O'Sullivan as Dundalk turned the screw and could have gone ahead in a spell after the interval where Dave McMillan twice tested Mark McNulty.
As the minutes passed, the back-to-back league champions maintained the same pace and the manner of Horgan's run for the goal just about summed up the story of the season. Cork tried their best, but they couldn't keep up.
"We didn't want to go to penalties because then it's a toss of a coin," admitted Shields. This Dundalk crop tend to make their own luck.
Dundalk - Rogers, Gannon (O'Donnell 43), Boyle, Gartland, Massey; Shields, Towell; Meenan (Mountney 77), Finn, Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff 71).
Cork City - McNulty, Dunleavy, Bennett, D Dennehy, Gaynor; Miller (Healy 59), O'Connor; B Dennehy, Buckley, Sheppard (Murray 100); O'Sullivan (Morrissey 79).
Ref - Dave McKeon (Dublin).