Thursday 21 November 2019

Daniel McDonnell: Kenny frustration shows Dundalk what must be addressed after painful defeat to Rosenborg


Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Dundalk's Patrick McEleney. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

In the space of four years, Stephen Kenny has given Dundalk a team to be proud of. The challenge for his employers now is to build a club of a similar quality or risk losing him.

They have a window to mull over direction after a tough European exit removed spice from their summer.

For years, Irish clubs have spoken about 'doing a Rosenborg'. On Wednesday, Kenny's men came close to doing them in a very different way.

But it was clear their manager took more away from the trip than the pain of an extra-time reverse. The most telling line in his post-match reflections was a reference to 'bloody Oriel Park' and the limited facilities in contrast to Rosenborg's.

Kenny's impatience with the role of little guy is thinly concealed. Last month, he asked supporters to keep turning up for routine league games in a season dominated by Cork to show they aren't a 'small provincial club'.

On the pitch, he encourages players to be ambitious and he needs it to be matched off the park. With Cork and Shamrock Rovers bowing out last night, all the Irish clubs are out of Europe before August.

In truth, they have all exited to sides that should be beating them if you compare the resources; valid excuses should not halt a debate on what can be done to make things better.

Talk of Dundalk domination off the back of 2016 was unrealistic given how much they have to do off the park and the inevitability that winter departures would hurt them. This is where the league's basic weakness snookers it.

Dundalk might have won nearly €7m in Europe, but they were never going to splash it all on personnel when bonuses to players and staff had already eaten into their rewards.

Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan and Ronan Finn were always going to be tough to replace and they were lost for free.

The Irish market did not have ready-made replacements that would plug the gap. Instead, Kenny mainly recruited U-25 players that are a work in progress. Rosenborg can afford to spend a seven-figure sum on Nicklas Bendter.

Good sides need time together to do what Dundalk did last year, but in a league defined by short-termism then the clock is always ticking. Cork City must now cope without Sean Maguire and Kevin O'Connor. Dundalk's main asset Patrick McEleney is out of contract in November.

Until players with potential are tied down on lengthy deals, progress will always have a ceiling.

The problem, of course, is that clubs cannot make it worth the players' while to sign them because of the risk-and-reward financial calculation. Without a functioning football industry in Ireland, nobody will be 'doing a Rosenborg'.

It's the little things that matter. Earlier this week, a group of Irish journalists were given wrong directions to Rosenborg's pre-match press conference and ended up in the home team's day-to-day base which adjoins the Lerkendal Stadium.

In contrast to Dundalk, who have two full-time staff and volunteers running around the place before a European game, the atmosphere was calm.

This was another day's work for the abundance of employees that are accustomed to much bigger games with memories of 15 Champions League or Europa League group stages appearances inside just over two decades.

A press officer directed the visiting party towards the canteen where a buffet was laid out for any player that happened to pass through. There was a chef stocking it up every few minutes. Outside the window, the U-15 side was training on one of their artificial pitches. The seniors were due in shortly, with everything laid out for them.

Dundalk have a professional squad, but they play for a club that is essentially part-time and the gap in Europe will never be bridged if that remains the case.

Rosenborg coach Kare Ingebrigtsen said the perception of Irish football as amateurish was misguided because Dundalk had very good players. But pictures of Oriel Park do little for the reputation.

Owners Andy Connolly and Paul Brown do have plans to grow the club with the funds from 2016 held in reserve. Dundalk have taken control of the large derelict Youth Development Centre on their grounds and they have scope there to develop that into an impressive front of house.

A gym has been installed and new dressing rooms should follow. Rosenborg refused to change in the existing ones because they are so substandard.

On a broader scale, Dundalk are exploring using the centre to generate revenue in other ways, be it through conferencing or even small concerts.

They had spoken about seeking government grants, but local political support has been lukewarm at best and the money they banked from their Europa League adventure has perhaps created the belief they are sorted.

The gulf between themselves and Cork and the rest means that European qualification is a given and that offers a form of security. But they have a lot of thinking to do, even if their problems would be relished by most League of Ireland clubs.

Change needs to happen at a pace that satisfies their manager. Dundalk may have cash in the bank but without Kenny they will be much poorer.

His frustration should be sending a message.

Irish Independent

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