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Sunday 19 January 2020

Lilywhites dominate teams of decade

Soccer: Dundalk FC

Kevin Mulligan

Understandably at this time of the year when sports journalists are trying to fill column inches, and particularly those engaged in covering the domestic soccer scene during its period of hibernation, a number engage in speculation about the new season, or reflect on past glories.

This January, at the start of a new decade, a number have engaged on selecting the best League of Ireland team over the last decade, since 2010.

Naturally Dundalk players figure prominently in those selections, for unquestionably the Lilywhites have been the team of the decade, winning six League titles, two FAI Cups, the League Cup on three occasions, as well as the newly inaugurated north-south Champions Cup and a number of other minor trophies.

The two most prominent selections for the 'team of the decade' were made by Rory Houston for RTE sport and Johnny Ward for 'Off the Ball'.

Interestingly their selections vary, for in Houston's case he has chosen eight Dundalk players in a 4-3-3 formation that undoubtedly features players of considerable quality, but the balance within the team is another matter.

On the other hand, Ward who has selected seven Dundalk players, opts for a 4-1-4-1 formation.

The RTE selection is: Gary Rogers, Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle (all Dundalk), Ian Bermingham (St. Patrick's Athletic), Chris Shields, Stephen O'Donnell, Richie Towell (all Dundalk), Gary Twigg (Shamrock Rovers) Patrick Hoban (Dundalk) Sean Maguire (Cork City).  Reserves, Alan Manus (Shamrock Rovers), Dane Massey, Daryl Horgan and David McMillan (all Dundalk), Gavin Peers (Sligo Rovers), Joseph Nido and Greg Bolger (Shamrock Rovers).

Most followers of the game would find little fault with the defence, but the midfield with Shields and O'Donnell in that sector never really worked when they played together for Dundalk, while the three strikers selected, Twigg, Hoban and Maguire operate best through the middle. Consequently the absence of a wide players would be a draw back.

The 'Off the Ball' selection is: Shane Supple (Bohemians), Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland and Andy Boyle (Dundalk), Enda Stevens (Shamrock Rovers), Stephen O'Donnell, Richie Towell (both Dundalk), Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers), Michael Duffy (Dundalk), Sean Maguire (Cork City) Daryl Horgan (Dundalk).

This 4-1-4-1 selection looks much better balanced, although the choice of Enda Stevens at left back is surprising in that he left the LOI scene in 2011 ahead of Dane Massey and Ian Bermingham who have performed consistently for their clubs throughout the decade.   

Stephen O'Donnell, now the Pats manager, is deservedly included in all 'team of the decade' teams for he was easily the outstanding midfield player of his era, and he is chosen to anchor the 'Off the Ball' selection behind a very dynamic looking midfield four of Duffy and Horgan on the flanks, with Towell and Byrne inside of them.

The one striker, Maguire gets the nod before Patrick Hoban, a choice that led to some debate on social media sites.

In total ten Dundalk players have been in the two selections, and for the reason it is not all that difficult to select the Dundalk 'team of the decade', but would all ten players be included in a selection by either Stephen Kenny or Vinny Perth seeking the right balance in their team?

Let's start the discussion and make our own selection:

Goalkeeper

Gary Rogers: No contest here, the 38 year-old has minded the Dundalk nets for most of the decade, and has had few rivals during that period.  He has made it difficult for his understudies, Arron McCarey, Gabriel Sava, and Ross Treacy to make the breakthrough, and only Shane Supple (Bohamians) and Mark McNulty (Cork City) have challenged his dominance in the League.

Defence

Here, Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland and Andy Boyle, have been the choice for almost all observers in the selection for 'team of the decade', and would be the choice of most Dundalk fans for their team of the last ten years.

Gannon, now 27, has been by far the most consistent right-back in the League, and is the envy of every other club.

Undoubtedly, Gartland and Boyle were the outstanding pairing in the middle of the decade when they were the backbone of the defence that did so well in Europe in 2015 and 2016, but since Boyle left to join Preston North End at the end of 2016, and Gartland found it difficult to make the team in the last few seasons, others such as Sean Hoare, Daniel Cleary and Niclas Vemmelund emerged and would be contenders in the eyes of some for inclusion in Dundalk's 'team of the decade'.

At left-back Dane Massey was not the choice in any of the selections by national pundits, but he would be the unanimous choice of all Dundalk fans.  Written off a number of times during the decade, he has always come back stronger than ever, and in the last two seasons saw off the challenge of Dean Jarvis.

Who is to say he won't see off newly signed, Darragh Leahy, for he had a great season in 2019.

Midfield

Midfield is the sector that would create most discussion among Dundalk fans for while Stephen O'Donnell, Chris Shields and Richie Towell should be included, the difficulty arises in trying to get the balance right in that area.

On many occasions, when O'Donnell was fit and at his best, Stephen Kenny tried to pair himself and Shields in the engine room, but the combination never seemed to work, for both are holding players, preferring to dominate the area in front of the back four.

The problem is that it is impossible to leave one out of any selection for the 'team of the decade' and for that reason they must be accommodated. 

Although he only played two seasons with Dundalk before his transfer to Brighton at the start of 2016, Richie Towell was the best goal scoring midfielder in the country, as his 25 goals in the 2015 campaign demonstrated, and he must be assured of his place.

Others worthy of a mention in this sector are Ronan Finn who moved to Rovers after the 2016 campaign, Patrick McEleney who had a brilliant first season with the club, Jamie McGrath, rated the best young prospect in the country, the ever present John Mountney and the talented but enigmatic, Krisztian Adorjan.

Forwards

The selection of the midfield combination and team formation has to have an bearing on the forward players when trying to get the balance right in the team.

Most Dundalk fans would like to see Michael Duffy and Daryl Horgan in the side and Patrick Hoban playing through the middle, but would that combination work within a team framework.

Here again, it if difficult to leave either player out of the selection, even though both operated best on the left. 

Picking the best individuals and the best team are totally different assigments, and for that reason our selection of the Dundalk team of the decade might not meet all the criteria for some.

Kevin Mulligan’s Dundalk FC team of the decade:

Rogers

Gannon - Gartland - Boyle - Massey

Shields - Towell - O'Donnell

Horgan - Hoban - Duffy

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