Wednesday 21 August 2019

Dundalk braced for further exits as stars think outside the box

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

John Fallon

For all the shockwaves over Ronan Finn's departure from Dundalk to the club which finished three places behind them caused, the move maintained a pattern which the League of Ireland has developed an unusual reputation for.

Domestic domination, augmented by an unprecedented European run this year, not only attracted new audiences for the Co Louth club yet also suitors for their players.

That Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle replicated the trend of Richie Towell of 12 months earlier by clinching cross-channel moves recently represented natural progress.

Still, losing one of their key players to a club without a title push for the past five seasons wasn't part of the trajectory Dundalk were plotting.

While this is not unusual territory for a title winner, it does place major question marks over Dundalk's capacity to etch their name further into the history books.

Rovers themselves know all about the peculiar oddities of domestic football as they lost top scorer Stephen Geoghegan to Shelbourne immediately after their 2004 title triumph.

It has worked the other way in more recent years, most lately yesterday.

Mark Quigley and Jason McGuinness jumped ship from Sligo following their 2012 success and Conor Kenna did likewise a year later from champions St Patrick's Athletic.

Rovers boss Stephen Bradley was adamant yesterday that financial firepower didn't clinch the deal to bring former midfielder Finn back to Tallaght but that assertion must be taken in the context of the contract length.

Although Dundalk's exploits in Europe grossed them €7m, they have not reached the stage of offering three-year contracts to their top performers.

Neither did they meet the six-figure valuation Bray Wanderers placed on the head of Dylan Connolly, a much younger asset than Finn and one more marketable as a transfer target for UK clubs.

When Lilywhites boss Stephen Kenny spoke earlier this week of players exploring their careers outside of football, it was an ominous sign.

The manager pledged his support to keeping the biggest success story of Irish football on track by penning a new two-year deal in May and he's managed to retain Gary Rogers, Paddy Barrett, Ciaran Kilduff and Robbie Benson from last season's squad.

Dane Massey became the latest player to stay put yesterday.

Negotiations are under way with several of the other free agents.

Right-back Sean Gannon is being tipped to join the cross-channel movers, albeit the Hoops are also keen, and captain Stephen O'Donnell is still out of contract.

Two other integral elements of their backbone, defender Brian Gartland and David McMillan, remain in talks and it is expected the latter will be more difficult to nail down on terms. Similar to Finn, McMillan is academically qualified in a profession outside of football and is justifiably assessing the bigger picture.

The precarious nature being the a player in a League of Ireland sector still struggling for sustainability makes their hesitation perfectly reasonable.

Irish Independent

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