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Friday 14 December 2018

Kenny calls for high standards as Lilywhites eye the double

John Savage

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny has backed his players to keep their standards up as they chase records between now and the end of the season.

Victory over Derry City last Tuesday all but wrapped the league title up while Friday night's 1-0 win over UCD ensured their passage into the FAI Cup final on November 4th. While that has made a lot of October's schedule largely irrelevant to some supporters, Kenny and co are determined to finish the season in style.

They are chasing a series of records including the most points gained in a League of Ireland season, currently held by the Bohs side of 2008 who claimed 85, as well as the most goals scored in a season, a feat Dundalk managed three years ago when they scored 78 en route to Kenny's second league win with the Lilywhites.

A clean sheet record is also a possibility while Patrick Hoban is aiming to become the Premier Division's all-time leading goalscorer in a season having equaled the record with his strike against Derry on Tuesday.

Those aims aside, Kenny is also aware that Dundalk need at least a point at home to St Patrick's Athletic on Friday (kick-off 7.45pm, live on RTÉ Two) to officially ensure the club's 13th league win in its history. That means he immediately dismissed the idea that the players could take their foot off the gas now that the league was more or less in the bag.

'I understand the point you're making but the next game here we still mathematically need a point and we have to go and try and get that against Pat's.

'We'll have a big home crowd here for that and the following home game then will be the trophy presentation. We've two other away games as well and we still have the all-time points total as a target as well and the all-time goals total as well so we can't dismiss those things. We have to keep going and keep winning the matches. 

'We want to try and keep our form up and get the extra point we need to win the league. Hopefully we can do that on Friday.

'It's a wonderful period for the club. The players worked so hard to try and regain the league title and we're in a great position. A few weeks ago we couldn't have envisaged it would finish so quickly. We probably expected it to go down to the last couple of games but it's just been an incredible run of form but we want that to continue by trying to win our last four games.

'It would be nice to win it on Friday in front of our home support. The record number of points is a possibility but to win the league is a proud feeling for everyone. A lot of supporters would have followed the club in the First Division during a barren period. During those seven years only the most optimistic would have said we'll go and win four out of five league titles in the Premier Division. It's a fantastic period and we should really embrace it and get behind the team and show all that is positive about Dundalk.'

Kenny is also looking forward to a fourth FAI Cup final in-a-row.

'We're delighted to be in the final. It's a great privilege and something we never take for granted. It could be our last. We've been there for the last three years, won the first but the second one was very hard flying back from St Petersburg and dominating a lot of the final. Then last year there wasn't much in the game but we lost on penalties. It's a great privilege to be there again and we'll look forward to it.

'For a lot of our players it's their first final. Patrick Hoban has never played in the Aviva so it's great for him and others like Daniel Cleary,' he said.

Kenny admitted his side weren't at their best in beating UCD on Friday night but was pleased to get the job done.

'It was tough mentally after Tuesday. We'd have loved to be the Sunday game after the two. We asked for it but it wasn't given. There was nothing we could do about that but on paper it was a good draw because we were at home. Bohs are playing well and Cork were the holders but we knew that UCD had beaten Waterford. 

'They're very good at keeping possession. Conor Davis nearly played like a false nine tonight. He comes in deep, deeper than Gary O'Neill, meaning that your centre halves have no one to mark. That creates an extra player and they're brave enough to pop it around. They didn't necessarily penetrate us but they had periods where they kept the ball well. We were breaking very quickly then sometimes in the second half of the first half with Patrick McEleney in particular and Michael Duffy and it looked like we would get a goal when it came.

'We had some chances in the second half and didn't quite take them but to be fair to UCD they defended well and played well and credit to them. We played well enough and did enough to win.'

The manager praised match winner Patrick McEleney, describing his winner as 'really, really terrific'.

He said: 'Where he picked the ball up just inside the half, it was a fantastic finish then. He scored a great goal on Tuesday as well so he has found a little bit of rhythm and it's great for him to get two goals like that because he was doubting himself a little bit when he came back. 'He realised he wasn't in the shape he had been in. He had been injured at Oldham and it was the off-season there so when he seen the shape of everyone here it was a bit daunting. He's a quite modest and self effacing person Patrick and he has got himself in terrific condition now and the explosiveness is there now. He's definitely been there in the past week.'

Stephen O'Donnell and Karolis Chvedukas are expected to be Dundalk's only two definite absentees for Friday's visit of Pat's to Oriel Park although Jamie McGrath (groin) and Sean Hoare (hamstring) are doubts to face their former club.

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