Banner taunts driving Rovers ahead of vital Dundalk clash
It has been a miserable week for Dundalk after striker Ciaran Kilduff was ruled out for several months with a complex back injury and Shamrock Rovers have a personal reason to pile on the agony in Tallaght tonight.
Their manager Pat Fenlon revealed yesterday that the Hoops camp were annoyed by the branding in the background of the league champions' new kit launch in December.
The backdrop at the event made reference to the fact that Stephen Kenny's side secured back-to-back titles by gaining a point on Rovers' home turf.
Watching the celebrations on the night was one thing, but Fenlon feels that the 'Champions 2 in a row..and we did it in Talla (sic)' banner went a bit too far and his players are aware of his thoughts.
"I've no problem with them winning the title here but I have a bit of a problem with what they did after it in relation to their hoarding they brought out about it," said Fenlon yesterday.
"That was disappointing, I think. They won the league at Tallaght. We know that. I thought that was disrespectful to us but that's the way that football is. I have huge respect for Stephen, the players and the staff there but these things happen in football. We just have to deal with it but it was disappointing."
Rovers' longest-serving player Gary McCabe has painful memories of the October fixture where Richie Towell's late penalty brought an early end to what essentially developed into a one-horse title race. On the night in question, the hosts played well. Across the season, they were a good bit off the pace.
"It was hard to watch (the celebrations)," admits the midfielder. "It killed us. I've won the league here in Tallaght once with Rovers and haven't since so it's killed us every time, no matter what team it is, especially coming here. It's an awful thing. We didn't win anything last year so it's hard. We want to win the league this year.
"It's my own personal goal. I don't want to win anything else. The league is the main thing. Whatever comes after that happens but the league is number one."
Last week's thrashing of Bohemians got Rovers back on track following a dreadful display in Derry. With Cork up next on Monday, this is a vital period for Fenlon's charges. They are four points behind Dundalk with the refixed Turner's Cross game in hand.
"This week is going to set the tone for the rest of the season," asserts McCabe. "We're not looking for anything less than six points.
"We haven't been at it at all in the last few season. Pat has come in and has put his mark down again for this year and where he wants us to be. We're slowly getting there and this year I think we'll be up there for a run."
Dundalk avoided serious injuries last term but Kilduff's fractured vertebrae - an injury he picked up against St Patrick's Athletic on Monday - leaves Stephen Kenny light in the striking department. Brothers Ciaran O'Connor and Michael O'Connor, his youthful back-up options, are both sidelined, meaning Dave McMillan carries the burden of responsibility. Kenny feels sympathy for Kilduff who has a torrid record with injuries; he was struck down early in the campaign when the pair worked together briefly at Rovers in 2012.
"The scan has presented a complex injury," he said. "He has to wear a back brace for the next six weeks and he is facing several months out. It's a real kick in the teeth for Ciaran. He came in halfway through last season when there was only a few points in it and he made an exceptional impact.
"It reminds me a lot of two years ago when we lost Stephen O'Donnell at this stage. At that time it was a huge blow to us and he came back for the final few games and he helped us then. We need to do the same this year."