Vibrant Dundalk showing rivals the only way forward
Published 14/09/2015 | 02:30
'I'm not going to blow smoke up Stephen Kenny's arse," announced Micky Adams on Friday evening as he reflected on the 4-0 drubbing suffered by his Sligo Rovers' side in a remarkably one-sided FAI Cup quarter-final.
One can safely say that Adams never envisaged himself ending up in this situation.
In his first encounter with Kenny, a pre-season friendly between Longford and Brighton in 2001, the narky game was abandoned halfway through, a sorry episode which culminated with both sets of players effectively attempting to kick each other up the arse.
Longford's players have always claimed that Adams' cranky unit didn't enjoy the fact they were being passed off the park; the visitors argued that the officials lost control.
The respective bosses made their peace when their employers met in the league in Oriel Park nine days ago, a fixture where Sligo succeeded in coming away with a point from the home of the champions.
For Dundalk, round two at the venue was far more straightforward. When the visitors fell two behind on the hour mark, they may as well have thrown the towel in as chasing a game against Kenny's speedsters rarely ends well. It could have been any number in the end.
There is always a curiosity when a manager from another jurisdiction ends up in these parts. The Irish obsession with how others see us means that extra weight is often attached to their words. Adams has tasted life in all four English league divisions, so there's a natural curiosity about how he views the best we have to offer.
By his own admission, the 53-year-old is still learning about his new terrain. A reasonably high-profile Airtricity League player tells a story about going on trial to England some years back with a pal from the same bracket and pitching up at a club where Adams was manager.
The experienced gaffer left the Irish visitors with the impression that he was doing them a favour by giving them the chance to train with the squad of a lower league club; they copped that their League of Ireland CV counted for nothing in the eyes of people who only knew the English scene.
Naturally enough, Adams' main concern at the moment is keeping Sligo up as opposed to offering his take on the runaway league leaders with double ambitions.
"How good are Dundalk?" he was asked on Friday.
"They're the best team in Ireland," he responded, grinning.
A few questions later, he expanded a little further, while stressing that he was unfamiliar with the background to Kenny's extraordinary three-year job.
"I don't know how long he's been here," he explained. "But he's shown he's a good manager, he's got a good eye for players, their shape is good and their fitness levels are good. It sounds as though I have blown some smoke up his arse."
It didn't really feel that way, but then Adams is in no real position to assess the importance of a Dundalk force that is close to entering debates on the best LOI team of the past 25 years.
Retaining a title is a must to be involved in this discussion. Kenny and Pat Fenlon have never been bosom buddies and there's always a healthy needle between the respective benches when their sides meet, but the Rovers boss acknowledged last week that any group which goes back to back deserves serious respect.
He knows what it takes having ticked that box with excellent Shelbourne and Bohemians sides in the 2000s.
Shels will be remembered for European exploits, while the Bohs machine that racked up a record points total of 85 and won the double in 2008 was unstoppable on these shores.
They had an experienced spine that efficiently swept all before them. With key members of his Shels dressing room on board, Fenlon had a winning formula.
For the majority of this Dundalk crop, last year's title joy was a first and their youthful energy and incredible fitness levels make for an explosive combination. The skilfully managed Shamrock Rovers generation that scaled the Europa League hurdle in 2011 lacked that wow factor; Fenlon has admitted that he has to add pace to the current side to bridge the gap.
Kenny was cautious on Friday, conscious that the great performances will be forgotten if there's no medal to show for it.
But, after a period where cost-cutting and a talent drain did impact on the overall standard, Dundalk possess a refreshing vitality that is raising the bar again and demanding that others follow. If Adams sticks around long enough, he'll soon appreciate their value.