Kerry FC boss says conceding late goal is ‘another steep learning curve, and a harsh lesson for us’

Rueful Billy Dennehy said the positives in Kerry’s 0-1 loss to Athlone Town were ‘the energy, intensity, and belief’ but added that ‘at this level there are harsh lessons, and we got another harsh lesson’

Kerry FC manager Billy Dennehy

John O'DowdKerryman

When you are novices at any level of sport, making your way in a cut-throat world, it is all about the little incremental gains from week to week. Nobody expects miracles from the outset, but learning from mistakes, and pushing the boundaries, will always be welcomed.

After their first goal, and first point, in previous matches, Kerry FC were two minutes (plus stoppage time) away from their opening clean sheet of this fledgling League of Ireland First Division season at Mounthawk Park on Friday night.

While maybe a little disappointed not to have made their first half dominance count, and just a tad relieved to have weathered the Athlone Town second half storm, keeping their goal intact would have been a significant boost to Billy Dennehy’s charges.

At this moment in time, however, luck is not on their side, with disaster striking in the 88th minute as the visitors’ substitute Valerii Dolia slotted home a late winner to crush Kerry FC hopes. The home manager was understandably gutted by that late, late sucker punch.

“The first half was so good, and it was very exciting. Some of the football that we played, and the chances we created, we probably should have capitalised on it when we were very dominant in the game. We just couldn’t get that goal, and that always keeps Athlone in the game,” he said.

“The players fed off the energy of the crowd, and it really got us on the front foot from the start. We just couldn’t get that goal early on when we were dominating the game, and I think it would have had a big impact on the result.

“Overall, it’s another steep learning curve, and a harsh lesson for us. When you’re on top, you really have to make it count, because other teams at this level will punish you when they get a chance, and that’s what happened in the end.”

Dennehy was impressed with the way his side took the game to Athlone Town from the first whistle, especially after being on the receiving end of some negative results in recent weeks. Despite another reversal, the Tralee man saw plenty of green shoots for the immediate future.

“Some of the football at times, and patterns of play, were really good. The young lads on the team are playing with such composure in possession, and they’re comfortable on the ball. It’s great to be seeing the players comfortable in that environment, and being able to compete in that environment. We’re just a small bit disappointed that we couldn’t convert it into real clear-cut chances.

“The positives are the energy, and the intensity, and the belief, which the team started the game with, considering we had a heavy defeat a couple of weeks ago, and that we lost narrowly last week. You could see that we played on the front foot as a confident team, and took the game to Athlone, and that was very pleasing to see.

“That’s what we want do, especially at home. But the learnings are obviously that when we are on top, we need to take our chances, and really see out games. When there’s a half-chance at this level, you will get punished. But, in terms of effort, and quality and style of play, for such a young and inexperienced group, it was really, really good.

“It’s just managing to see out games, and having that ruthless streak, and that game management and experience, which the players are getting every week now, we’re just being punished at the minute. But sometimes that’s not a bad thing, because you will learn from it quicker.

“Hopefully, as a team, we can grow from it, and keep pushing on, and keep developing, we’ve been competitive in nearly all the games, but we just need to try and translate those performances into wins now.”

Although still waiting for that opening historic victory after six attempts, the Kerry FC boss can see the progress that is being made. They are being forced to swallow some bitter pills at the moment, but the perseverance will continue, and the wins will eventually come. Dennehy is confident of that.

“You’re looking at the games we’ve played so far, you’re looking at tonight, you’re looking at Wexford, you’re looking at Cobh early on in the season, you’re looking at Bray, these are teams in play-off positions that we’re competing with, and we’re well in the games, and there’s very small margins that are deciding the games,” he added.

“That fills me with huge belief, and huge confidence in the players and the group, especially when you consider that 90 per cent of this team have never played at this level before. When we went up to Galway a few weeks ago, a quarter of our team had to take a half day from school. When you put those facts in place, and the context of the team, they’re doing really, really well.

“At this level, there are harsh, harsh lessons, and tonight, unfortunately, we got another harsh lesson. If you don’t score when you’re well on top, other teams will get a chance and, more often than not, they will take them. It’s just unfortunate that we can’t get over the line, but it will come.”

Admitting that, at times, there might have been too much of a gap between the various units on the pitch, Dennehy stressed that his second half substitutions were made with the purpose of trying to win the game. Sean Kennedy, Sean McGrath, Cian Brosnan and Kennedy Amechi were all called from the bench before the end.

“Myself, as a manager or a coach or whatever you want to call it, after a game, I always analyse myself first, and things I could have changed, and maybe helped the team, or done better with, and the players are the same. We’re all trying to learn as quickly as possible, and progress as quickly as possible.

“We’re trying to get to a stage where we’re not making repeated mistakes, and tonight was a good start. We didn’t concede from a set-piece, we didn’t let in an early goal, we were a bit more solid, and that was a great platform for us to build and grow from.

“Possibly, at times, the distance was too big between the units in the team. That can happen within a game, especially as it goes on and fatigue sets in, and concentration levels go, and positional sense might be off a little bit. As the fitness grows, and the game understanding grows, you would hope that will happen less and less, but I don’t think it was a massive determining factor.

“We made a few changes to try and bring more energy to the team, and get players who could run in behind, all forward, attacking players, so we did really try to go for it. We have players who can come on and influence it that way, but that final chance never really fell for us in the second half.”