The loss of Mark Connolly to the Brandywell club is a hefty blow but, from a business perspective, it was the right decision not to break the wage structure
While Dundalk fans were treated to three new signings last Wednesday, perhaps the most notable announcement by the club on the day was buried towards the end of the press release revealing Robbie McCourt’s arrival at Oriel Park from Sligo Rovers.
There, more than 400 words in, was confirmation that Mark Connolly’s time at Oriel Park was up.
The long battle to retain the Clones man’s services beyond the length of his loan spell from Dundee United had fallen short and then, to rub further salt into the wound, the centre-half was snapped up by Derry City the next day on a permanent, two-and-a-half year deal.
Having made a scoring debut for the Candystripes in their 7-0 FAI Cup win over Oliver Bond Celtic at the weekend, Connolly will now make an immediate return to Oriel Park where he will be expected to make his league debut in a crunch match between the two sides this weekend.
Depending on what side Ruaidhrí Higgins selects, there could be as many as five ex-Dundalk players in the Derry side on Friday night. Coupled with Daniel Cleary signing for Shamrock Rovers, last week was a reminder – as if any were needed – that Dundalk aren’t operating at a level they once were when it comes to competing for players.
Whereas in the past, perhaps as recently as 12 months ago, Dundalk could have forked out what was needed to keep Connolly and given him the long-term deal he wanted in the process, the goal posts have very much changed at Oriel Park.
No one likes to see good players leave, of course, and Connolly was just that – a key member of a side that have surprised many to become, for now at least, the nearest challengers to Shamrock Rovers.
Dundalk fans have been used to seeing some of their favourites depart over the years. Towell, Hoban, Boyle, Horgan, etc, were all fan favourites but, equally, you could not begrudge them taking their career to the next level.
For the best part of a decade, Ronan Finn was perhaps the only player lost to a domestic rival that the club would have rather kept.
For the last 12 months, the goalposts have shifted though. Michael Duffy, Patrick McEleney, Cameron Dummigan and Will Patching would all be assets at Oriel Park still but we’ll be looking on at them – as well as Connolly – in a Candystripes kit on Friday night.
When you add the likes of Seán Murray and Sam Stanton into the mix, it’s fair to say Dundalk’s draw for players is not what it once was.
True, the club’s new owners could have forked out what Dundee United and Connolly wanted to keep him. But what sort of precedent would that have set?
As fool proof a signing as Connolly looked given his performances during his time here, bowing to his wage demands could potentially have opened a can of worms that could ultimately lead to problems down the line.
You can’t blame any player for looking for the best deal for themselves and their family. It is, after all, a job and we, as fans, regularly change employers in the pursuit of more money, more opportunity and better conditions, so why should a footballer be held to a different account?
Yet the club have to look after themselves too. If Connolly’s demands were met, what’s to stop several other players seeking similar when it comes to negotiating their deals. All of a sudden new signings are demanding outlandish sums and retaining existing players becomes that bit more difficult.
That’s not to say it was an easy decision to pass on Connolly. The side has lost a real asset. A leader. A winner.
But for the long term stability of the club, it was probably the right call – as much as it won’t be easy to see him in Derry colours this weekend.
All that said, Dundalk have overachieved so far this season. To be in second place at this stage is an amazing achievement and we can but hope McCourt and fellow new recruits Alfie Lewis and Runar Hauge add to the fine mix that Stephen O’Donnell and the club’s board have put together.
It’s a testament to their work that, rather than sulking at the increased competition Hauge’s arrival has brought, that two of the Norwegian’s rivals for the left sided berth – Ryan O’Kane and Joe Adams – made such an impact off the bench against Longford Town at the weekend.
While a win on Friday would put the Lilywhites firmly back in the title picture – particularly given the potential distraction Europe could be for Shamrock Rovers – the ultimate aim this season is to get back into Europe themselves.
Regardless of how Friday night pans out – and we hope it’s a good one – the club are well on course to do that.
They must now just keep going as they have been finish the job.
That won’t be easy without Connolly and his inclusion in their side certainly makes Derry a harder side to beat on Friday night.
As good as he has been this season though, he hasn’t come up against the likes of a Pat Hoban – and you can bet the striker will be keen to let him know who’s boss on the night.
We have a proud and unbelievable record at Oriel Park this season. Dundalk might no longer be top dogs when it comes to the transfer market but wouldn’t it be lovely to show Derry we’re still tops where it really matters: on the pitch!
Come on the town!