Thursday 21 November 2019

Dundalk left to count the cost of midfield absentees as focus turns to Linfield showdowns

Patrick Hoban: Rovers 'look pretty but they don't actually go anywhere'. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Patrick Hoban: Rovers 'look pretty but they don't actually go anywhere'. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

In time, the details of Dundalk's defeat to Shamrock Rovers will be forgotten. All that matters is the name on the trophy.

But as the staff and players of the league champions left the Aviva Stadium, their frustration at the build-up to this match was obvious.

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The loss of Chris Shields due to a suspension picked up in a meaningless match will haunt the club, especially as they only found out after the event. Losing the heartbeat of their team in such a manner is an extraordinary error.

Patrick McEleney's inability to shake off a hamstring problem added to the woe.

Manager Vinny Perth had suggested during the week that he would expand on the Shields issue after the game, with Dundalk understood to be angered by correspondence with the FAI around the rules, but he declined to delve into it any further.

Perth is also miffed that McEleney picked up his setback during a period of fixture congestion.

"I'll be accused of making excuses," he said. "There's certain things I wouldn't be mad happy about but it's been Rovers' day and I'm very conscious they've done what they've done. They deserve the plaudits."

His players did expand on the impact of the changes with Shields' replacement Seán Hoare speaking bluntly.

"We didn't know until this week and it threw a spanner in the works a bit," he said.

Patrick Hoban said that the link between that and Dundalk's below-par display was obvious.

"We were mismatched with missing the two boys in midfield," he said.

"We've had a lot of injuries to players in and out of the team, especially in the middle of the park.

"Sometimes that can fracture you, especially with our running power in midfield which is a strong point to our game."

Sub Daniel Kelly said it was impossible to compensate for Shields being out of the equation. .

"Chris is huge for us," he said. "I know he's a number six but he ends up on the right wing, out on the left wing, he's winning balls back. He's huge for us. I don't know what to say to be honest. When he's on his game, there's nobody better than him.

"We've had a lot of highs this year but with the highs, you get the lows, and unfortunately tonight is going to be a low."

Perth conceded that his team hadn't quite fired, yet he felt they had got a grip on the match by the time extra-time came around.

"I felt fitness-wise we were ahead of them," he said. "We probably weren't clinical enough in the final third. We didn't start the game well but we grew into it and we finished the game with probably a disjointed midfield and we lacked that cutting edge."

The natural question in the aftermath is whether this Rovers win will have significance with a view to next year.

Dundalk weren't willing to accept that point.

"I said from the start that I didn't think this was the season-defining game," said Perth.

"We have got areas to improve on in our squad but myself and the chairman have been working on that in the last month and we're very close to improving our squad.

"People will draw their own conclusions but, ultimately, when we won the league we went 17 points clear. I don't think that was a far-off reflection on where we are as a club in my opinion but they'll obviously have a different opinion."

Hoban feels that Rovers are easy on the eye but that can be deceptive. "It looks pretty but they don't actually go anywhere," he said.

Dundalk's season doesn't end here. A product of their league win is participation in the inaugural Unite The Union Cup and a two-legged tie with Linfield next Friday and Monday. It means they will be back at work tomorrow.

"Speaking with Vinny and the lads in there, there's another treble we can win if we beat Linfield," said Kelly. Hoare was on the same page.

"It's probably a good thing that we have to go training on Tuesday because we can probably just forget about this and get going again," said Hoare.

"If we could win three trophies by the end of this year it would be unbelievable."

Perth thinks it's important to take the matches seriously.

"We'll be recovering and preparing for what's potentially another big weekend for Irish football," he said.

"I hope it goes well, the two games against Linfield. I know the all-Ireland league got a setback last week so hopefully it's a good game and it's a good occasion, a bit like today."

With Shields back in tow, they'll anticipate a different outcome.

Irish Independent

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