Tuesday 21 May 2019

'We are living the dream and don't want to wake up'

Kevin Mulligan

'Be careful what you wish for, for you rarely appreciate what you have until it's gone'.

That thought, not original, and frequently quoted, came to mind on listening to some of the comments after both of Dundalk's home games last week, the 3-2 win over Derry City when the SSE Airtricity Premier League title was virtually clinched, and the 1-0 win over UCD that takes the club to the Daily Mail Cup final in the Aviva Stadium on November 5th.

Some of the comments concentrated on the late concession of two goals to Derry and ignored the blistering first 60 minutes by Dundalk, while there was also a negative reaction by some at the failure to dispense with the Students challenge more clinically. All of this poses the question, are we becoming apathetic, almost bored with success ? 

Are we becoming inured to success to such an extent that we are starting to take it for granted.  Fed, as we have been since 2014 on a copious diet of trophies, we don't seem to be content at times with winning, but want the team to play like Barcelona or Manchester City and sweep away every opponent on the domestic front with disdain.

No harm in setting the barrier ever higher, no harm either in striving to play the game at a higher level than previously experienced in the League of Ireland. But realism must enter the debate, we are, after all playing in one of the lower ranked leagues in Europe, starved of the resources to progress. 

Consider this you sceptics, since Dundalk FC was established in 1906, the club had won the League on nine occasions and the other major trophy, the FAI Cup, nine times before the arrival of Stephen Kenny as Manager.

Since the Dubliner took over at Oriel Park in 2013, the club have won four League titles (including this season), and the FAI Cup on one occasion, with the appearance in next month's final, the fourth year in succession that honour has been achieved.

In Stephen Kenny we have the most successful manager in the club's history and indeed the most successful in the League.

We therefore must learn to appreciate that more, and realise that as more mature fans like myself often repeat 'we are living the dream, and don't want to wake up'.

Ok so we weren't at our best against UCD, and should have won more comfortably. True we did get a little sloppy in the final 20 minutes of the game against Derry, and conceded two poor goals. But no opponent, even Derry, playing their fourth game in ten days, or UCD, playing a tier lower in Division I, will turn up at Oriel Park and roll over for the entertainment of the Dundalk public who want to gorge on a feast of goals.

They have their pride and that was clearly evident in the performance of the Derry City players. For 60 minutes of last week's encounter they were subjected to an almost constant barrage from a Dundalk team liberated from pressure after their win in Cork four days previously. 

In the first half, and for the early part of the second half, Dundalk produced their best football for many, many weeks, culminating in three excellent goals, a bullet of a header from Daniel Cleary, a magnificently constructed team goal, finished by Patrick McEleney and a contender for goal of the season with a stunning finish from Pat Hoban.

It could have been more, for Hoban was denied the hat-trick he deserved with a magnificent save from Ger Doherty, while he narrowly missed with a fine header and got his feet in a tangle when presented with an easy chance in front of goal.

Under such an onslaught Derry, given their crippling schedule, could have capitulated, but they were sustained by their pride, made a few necessary half-time changes, which gave them more energy in midfield, and the changes, combined with the fact that understandably Dundalk relaxed, clawed their way into the game.

They never looked like rescuing a point, but deserve credit for staying in the game until the end. With UCD the expectation was that Dundalk, with a full team on duty, would easily advance to the final.

That prediction gave scant regard to the fact that this was UCD's final, their place in the sun, given that they were playing the Premier League champions in waiting before a 3,000 rather than a 300 crowd, and in front of a national TV audience.

There was never the prospect that they would lie down. Well drilled by their respected manager, Collie O'Neill, they moved the ball exceptionally well out of defence, were well organised, and had in central defender, Liam Scales the outstanding player on the field, who having thwarted many Dundalk attacks, deserved the man of the match award.

Their game plan of containing Dundalk, hoping for a break to snatch a goal, or a scoreless draw, was almost perfect, and it took an exceptional goal from Patrick McEleney to break their resistance. Perhaps Dundalk's play lacked energy at times, and their deliveries from corners and frees was poor, lacking innovation and execution, but they were playing their third high pressure game in seven days.

To win all three games in Cork, and at home to Derry and UCD, was a considerable achievement in that it secured the League title and a big day out in the Aviva on the first Sunday in November, and like the Dubs on All-Ireland day in Croke Park, we are coming to expect the FAI Cup final as our annual day out.

Even if all don't fully appreciate this achievement others do, for Eamonn Sweeney writing in the Sunday Independent hailed Dundalk's season as 'the greatest campaign in Irish soccer history'.

The team, he pointed out, was on course to set a new points record for the league (85 points set by Bohemians in 2008), they were also on course to set a new goal scoring record (78 is the record set by Dundalk in 2015) while Pat Hoban on 25 League goals could surpass, in his next four League games, the record of 29 set by Brendan Bradley in the 1974-75 season.

The writer concluded by lauding Stephen Kenny's footballing instincts by saying 'he has always put the emphasis on creative attacking football, for his teams are pragmatically effective and aesthetically pleasing'.

If at times some of us do not fully appreciate what we have, others are clearly envious off it. So we must learn to appreciate what we have for, as we all know, you have to wake up from a dream.

The Argus