Kenny: O'Donnell injury is a massive blow for us
Stephen Kenny woke up yesterday morning hoping knee news would be good news.
However, the Dundalk manager's worst fears were soon realised when it emerged that his captain and talisman, Stephen O'Donnell, had ruptured the cruciate ligaments in his right knee and was ruled out for the remainder of the season.
Quite how this impacts on Dundalk's chase for a first League title since 1995 remains to be seen, for while there are credible alternatives within their squad to fill O'Donnell's position, no one at the club shares a similar force of personality.
"Stephen has been absolutely outstanding since he came here," said Kenny.
"He has been a brilliant, brilliant captain, and an outstanding man around the place. We are lucky to have him here because he could play at a higher level. I saw that when we were both in the SPL seven years ago.
"He's had an injury-interrupted couple of years but when he came here, he got himself in the shape of his life, and had an outstanding season last season, and this season has stepped it up another notch, and been absolutely brilliant. So his loss is a huge blow."
Particularly as Dundalk have matured into an even better team this year than they were in the 2013 campaign, when they finished second to St Patrick's.
Unbeaten since the opening day of the season, they travel to Athlone this evening hoping to maintain the pressure on leaders, Cork City.
"We're a better team, no doubt," said Kenny. "We've more options and some of the players have got a bit more experience. Yet we still have improving to do. Their graph is on the way up as players and they are getting a bit better.
"Getting the consistency is the key thing. Playing every three days represents a mental challenge as well as a physical one.
"But no matter who we're playing, we're dominating possession, and dominating the games. However, statistics don't lie either, and we need to be tighter defensively, and not concede like we did on Friday.
"The defenders are all playing very well individually but it's important not to concede two goals in the manner we did against Shamrock Rovers. We should have had enough to see that game out.
"Still, while that result was disappointing, you can't dwell on it or beat yourself up about it because you've got to go again.
"This League is a test of endurance, so we want to make sure we bounce back from the concession of a late equaliser and not dwell on the disappointment of it, and make sure we're ready to go and be nice and positive for Monday."
Being positive is a lot easier, however, when you have reached the final of the year's first major tournament and are second in the table.
However, when you are bottom – as Athlone Town are – and without a point from eight league games, and staring at a place in the record books for all the wrong reasons, then life is not so sweet.
A defeat tonight would be Athlone's ninth of the season, equalling the mark set by St James' Gate in 1943.
Their cause was hardly helped by the absence of a substitute goalkeeper on their bench on Friday, when Paul Skinner's dismissal resulted in midfielder Sean Brennan stepping in between the sticks as his replacement because the club's regular number two, Craig Sexton, was missing, despite being named on the substitutes' list as was on coaching duties with the DDSL.