Sunday 20 January 2019

Exiles will do a Fermanagh if Reds' attitude isn't right

Seamus O'Hanlon - Sidelines

Dundalk maintained their push for the Premier Division league title with another thumping victory at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night.

Since losing to Waterford on the May bank holiday weekend Stephen Kenny's side have reeled off seven wins in a row, scoring 23 goals and conceding just four.

The Lilywhites were slow to start against Shamrock Rovers and fell behind to a Daniel Carr strike after just four minutes.

Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane was in the crowd and although Rovers' international call-up Graham Burke was not available due to the following day's friendly against USA he would have been impressed by the visitors' response. Buoyed on by midfielders Robbie Benson, Michael Duffy and Jamie McGrath, Dundalk were back on level terms after the impressive Duffy crossed for Pat Hoban to head home.

Martin O'Neill has name-checked the Derry man several times in recent months, so Keane's presence in the crowd was hardly a coincidence. Despite featuring regularly at underage for Northern Ireland, including three years at U-21 level, the former Celtic player has made no secret of his desire to play for the Republic. Michael O'Neill even called him up to the Northern Ireland senior squad in 2016, but he has also worn the Republic jersey, lining out for Paul Doolin's Under-18 home-based side in 2012.

A call-up to the Republic senior squad is sure to raise tensions yet again between the two managers and both football associations, but Duffy would be following a path well-worn by other Derry natives - including Shane Duffy, James McClean, Eunan O'Kane and Darren Gibson.

Four further goals from Dan Cleary, Dane Massey and a brace from Robbie Benson sealed the win and piled the pressure on Hoops manager Stephen Bradley.

Rovers' disciplinary record under the abrasive Bradley is the worst in the league and if the referee was doing his job properly further red cards should have been issued on Friday night, particularly to Roberto Lopez for an outrageous tackle on Jamie McGrath.

Up next for Dundalk is a home game against Limerick on Friday, before travelling to Derry the following week. Two more wins will set the side up nicely for a top-of-the-table clash with Cork in Oriel Park at the end of June.

In the First Division Drogheda United are motoring nicely and kept the pressure on leaders UCD with a 2-0 victory over Cabinteely on Friday. Goals in either half from Chris Lyons and Mark Doyle sealed the victory and left the Drogs just two points behind the students ahead of their game in hand against Shelbourne at Tolka Park yesterday evening (Monday). Then there's another crucial showdown with UCD on Friday night at Belfield.

Since losing to Finn Harps last month Drogheda have won four in a row without conceding and two good results this week should see them move back to the top of the table.

Football Qualifiers

Louth travel to the west London suburb of Ruislip at the weekend to take on the home side in Round One of the Qualifiers. Ordinarily this would be a plum draw for any side looking to get their season back on track, but Louth's 2018 form means that the locals go into this game with every chance of causing an upset.

I've played in Ruislip on three occasions in the past, two National League games and one challenge, and on each occasion the Exiles tore into us in the opening period before running out of steam as the game progressed.

Their abrasive approach can be effective at unsettling opponents and referees tend to give them greater latitude when playing in Ruislip. If Pete McGrath and his players are not up for this challenge or are in any way indifferent about this contest, then we are in for a beating. Fermanagh proved the point at the weekend by defeating a lacklustre Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final.

Anything this London side lacks in ability or quality will be more than compensated by their levels of fitness, thanks to manager Ciaran Deely who double-jobs as a QPR fitness coach.

I just hope the players and management team are in the right frame of mind for this fixture.

Drogheda Independent