Friday 20 April 2018

Captain just glad to be back

James Rogers

Ahead of this Friday night's home league match against Bray Wanderers it's amazing to think just how far Stephen O'Donnell has come in the last three years.

The last time the Dundalk captain played a game on Good Friday was back in 2014 when the Lilywhites drew 2-2 with Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park.

That night proved to be not such a Good Friday for the 31-year-old midfielder as he was stretchered off just before half-time with a serious cruciate knee ligament injury that briefly looked like having the potential to be career ending.

Thankfully O'Donnell fought his way back, famously scoring the crucial opener in the title-clinching 2-0 victory over Cork City exactly six months and one week later. Since then he has been pivotal in further title successes in 2015 and 2016 but his involvement in spearheading a push for a record equalling fourth title in-a-row up until now has been limited.

O'Donnell picked up a thigh injury in the opening day win at home to Shamrock Rovers and was sidelined before a late 10 minute cameo against Finn Harps in Ballybofey last Friday night.

Speaking to The Argus afterwards, O'Donnell said it was good to be back and while he admits he needs to get up to speed in terms of match practice, he is ready to be called upon if required when Bray come to town on Friday.

'I was happy to get a run out and I feel all right,' he said.

'I still need to get up to speed a bit obviously. I only sort of trained properly on Tuesday and Thursday. It will take a bit of time to get match sharp but I'm just happy to be back now and hopefully the injuries are behind me.

'The boys really dug in there. I only came in for 10 minutes and it was great personally to get back but more importantly it was good for the team to get a win on a poor pitch. This could have been a very tricky game so it was a good solid 2-0 win.

'On night's like this it's just about coming away with the three points. The pitch wasn't going to be convenient for good football so once we saw it we knew we'd have to dig in and then a few bits of quality made the difference. They were two great balls from Nico (Vemmelund) and Conor (Clifford) and two great finishes from Davey (McMillan) so we'll take our 2-0 win and move on to the next game,' said O'Donnell.

The Galway man's return has coincided with other players returning from lay-offs and while Robbie Benson and Sean Gannon remain unavailable to manager Stephen Kenny for the foreseeable future, O'Donnell believes Dundalk's close season additions are beginning to really settle in to the fold.

'Robbie and Sean are out for another few weeks but we're starting to get a bit of strength in depth on the bench again which is good to see and we're going to need all the squad when the season really kicks in.

'We're happy with the way it is shaping up and we just need to concentrate on ourselves and keep winning matches.

'We've Bray, Bohs and Galway in the next three games to finish off the series and if we win nine from 11 in the series we'd be happy enough with that. That will be our aim now to just keep picking up wins week by week.

'It was always going to take time for the new lads to settle in but they're all good players. Life isn't always that easy where you come in and just hit the ground running. The boys are doing very well and getting more cohesive every week so we just need to keep it going now.

'It's a marathon not a sprint so hopefully we keep tipping away and keep growing,' he said.

The Argus