Wednesday 7 December 2016

We will have to prove ourselves again every single week - Kenny

Published 01/03/2016 | 02:30

Dundalk FC manager Stephen Kenny Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE
Dundalk FC manager Stephen Kenny Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / SPORTSFILE

There is no hiding place for Dundalk. The back-to-back SSE Airtricity League champions have already played their first competitive match of the new season and tasted defeat.

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No matter that it was 'only' the President's Cup. Saturday's 2-0 loss at Turner's Cross against Cork City set down a marker for both teams.

The message from John Caulfield's Rebels was 'we're coming for you again this year'.

The response from Dundalk needs an immediate bounce-back in the champions' opening league game away to Bray Wanderers on Saturday night.

That will be an interesting proposition. Bray boss Mick Cooke has signalled his optimism about the season.

He has had money available to assemble a decent squad and Dundalk can expect a hot reception at the Carlisle Grounds on and off the pitch.

Kenny has no illusions, albeit that he was somewhat surprised and certainly disappointed with his team's sluggish display at Turner's Cross.

"We were deservedly beaten. I felt we were very, very slow out of the traps and a couple of players look like they have some work to do to get to where we need them to be," he said.

Fans of 'The Town' have enjoyed heady heights of success under his guidance, with the league in 2014 and the FAI Cup/league double achieved last season

For Kenny (44), a manager since he was 27, it's about keeping the team and the staff grounded.

Dundalk may not wholly subscribe to the old Liverpool of the '70s and '80s custom where, at the start of the new season, the previous year's medals were taken out of a box and handed around the dressing-room. No fuss, no fanfare.

The Anfield attitude under Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish was that the mementos of the past were largely irrelevant - nothing to do with the present, and offering no certainty of success in the future.

Kenny would not deny players and supporters their joy at achievement when the clinching matches are played. Beyond that, everyone associated with squad starts anew.

Biggest

So is this attempt to win three-in-a-row is the biggest challenge of his career?

The manager weighed up the question carefully before replying.

"It's a hard question to answer. When you're bottom, is that the biggest challenge?" he said.

"But I do know that we'll have to prove ourselves again every single week. There is that realisation that you have to start all over again.

"We know that we have to adapt to whatever the circumstances are, and we know we have to go to the Carlisle Grounds, and earn the right to win."

Funny game, football. Last season Dundalk enjoyed a great disciplinary record, with no sendings-off and very few yellow cards.

Kenny referenced defender Andy Boyle, who through the 2015 campaign incurred just one yellow card, and that was for handball.

But almost before the season gets going, there's a red card blemish on the record, and that is something Kenny will not want to see repeated.

Overall, he is happy with his squad, despite the loss of star player Richie Towell, who went to Brighton.

"I'm happy with the balance of the squad. We worked off quite a small squad. That was part of our success if you like, as well," said Kenny. "At the same time I'll have headaches in team selection because every one of those players is really good enough to be in the team every week.

"That causes its own selection issues. I understand that. We'll have a lot of players that will expect to play but I'm hopeful that we'll have between 45-50 games this year so we'll need absolutely everyone."

Two of the players who will seek to claim their regular slot in his starting 11 are Patrick McEleney, ex-Derry City, and Robbie Benson from UCD.

Those players exemplify the analysis and thought process which the Dundalk boss has applied to signing players throughout his career.

"You have to look and ask 'what attributes does he have?'," said Kenny.

"How would he fit in to the way we play? Could I maximise the attributes that he has within the framework of the team? Does the person have the capacity to want to get better?

"Patrick McEleney made his debut at 17, that's six years now. I only had him for two seasons (at Derry), but he can play.

"Robbie Benson, it's a step up from UCD. It takes a little bit of time to adjust for him, but he's got a lot of really good attributes and he has a very good attitude."

Irish Independent

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