History-chasing Gannon happy to fulfil dreams on home turf
The bus bringing the Dundalk team to the Aviva Stadium tomorrow will pass through the area in Ringsend where Sean Gannon grew up and still resides.
As a teenager, he went to school in Marian College on Lansdowne Road, the bulk of his time there coinciding with the renovation of the old ground.
Dundalk might face Cork City for the fourth year in a row tomorrow, but the novelty of lining out in the stadium he catches sight of almost every day will never fade for the 27-year-old. Home is very much where his heart is.
He will be making his fifth appearance in the national stadium as rivalries with the Leesiders are renewed. The other match was the 2016 Champions League showdown with Legia Warsaw.
Team-mates from that journey have moved on to pull on the green jersey for Ireland at the venue and Gannon was bracketed with the likely lads for cross-channel attention.
A number of clubs have taken a shine to the defender at various times but it either wasn't the right fit for them or the right fit for the player. The prospect of going away for the sake of it never truly captivated him.
"I think a lot of the whole 'get to England' thing, players get so wrapped up in it that they can't perform to the best of their ability," he muses.
"They are constantly trying to impress too much. Ever since I've started playing, I was never under the illusion that to have a good career, I had to go away."
Part of that attitude is borne from the fact that Gannon hadn't really tasted regular first-team football until he joined Dundalk in the winter of 2013.
Indeed, clubs that have come to watch Dundalk have made the mistake of thinking that he was younger. The late developer has made up for the lost time and now has the opportunity to create a lasting legacy.
Dundalk's recent league success brings his title haul to five; with four of those coming in the past five years since his move from the fringes of a title-winning St Pat's side.
In some quarters he is credited with six but he doesn't have a medal for 2011 when he made just one appearance as a rookie with Shamrock Rovers.
Nevertheless, he is within sight of Owen Heary and Johnny Matthews's league record of seven medals apiece.
Heary won a couple of FAI Cups too and Gannon is looking for a second win in the competition. With a pair of EA Sports Cup medals in the locker too and plenty of time on his side, he is well placed to become the most decorated League of Ireland player.
This helps to explain his thinking on overseas attractions.
"I've always been happy playing here with my friends and family around me," he says.
"If I never play football in another country, I won't look back on my career and think 'what if, what if.' Not at all.
"I can hand on my heart tell you that. If I was never to play abroad, it wouldn't bother me in the slightest because I'm very happy here playing in a great team that plays good football.
"When I wasn't getting into teams I was reassessing whether this career in the League of Ireland was for me. It goes through your mind when you spend a few years not playing. I was going to start college.
"But I'm at a great place to play football now. I don't think you will find anyone in our dressing-room here that's not happy. The way the club wants to go and the direction they want to move in, it's good to be a part of it."
Gannon is referring to last winter's takeover of Dundalk which was led by American company Peak6. He trusted the word of Kenny who gave an indication of the future plans before handing the Dubliner a three-year contract.
This offered year-round security which was a contrast from his younger days where he had to seek winter work; he listened to Waterford's French midfielder Bastian Hery speak on the LOI Weekly Podcast about the 40-42-week deals at his club and realised he was in a much better place now.
It means he can plan holidays without worry and also think about buying a house and the things that other working professionals his age are grappling with.
"Mike Treacy (Dundalk chairman) is always onto us to see if there's anything we need or anything they can do," he said.
"It's not a thing where people have bought the club and you don't see or hear from them.
"It's exciting times really. Patrick McEleney is here for another three years. Michael Duffy for another two. Jamie McGrath signed an extension. Daniel Cleary for another three years. The club are making a statement with the long-term contracts, they are going in the right direction."
This is where the dynamic has changed in Dundalk's head-to-head with the Leesiders that dates back to 2014.
Cork are a fan-owned club that are reluctant to overstretch and failing to retain their title - and the associated Champions League cash - means that a cut in John Caulfield's budget is on the way.
Kenny has disputed the impact that will have, while Caulfield has accused his rival of signing players that he doesn't need.
If the match-up might be repetitive to the floating fan, there is no disguising the enmity between the respective dressing-rooms.
"They are always tight games," admits Gannon. "We know each other so well, we've cursed each other for five years and been neck and neck with each other trying to win the game.
"We probably cancel each other out sometimes because we know each other so well. They haven't been classic games but then cup finals are always a bit cagey.
"On paper, it's two very good teams playing against each other. And, if you ask any player in Ireland, it's the best day of the season to be involved in."
Better again when it's on your own doorstep.
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