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Kenny and Fenlon ready for next leg of epic rivalry


Shamrock Rovers' Conor Kenna and Dundalk's Mark Rossiter ahead of the EA Sports Cup final. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Shamrock Rovers' Conor Kenna and Dundalk's Mark Rossiter ahead of the EA Sports Cup final. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE


Shamrock Rovers' Conor Kenna and Dundalk's Mark Rossiter ahead of the EA Sports Cup final. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

THIS evening in Oriel Park, Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers meet in a fixture which has significance beyond the winning of the EA Sports Cup.

Seasons rarely turn on the third most important competition, but it just so happens that the 2014 renewal has tied in perfectly with the narrative of this year and, potentially, the next couple of domestic campaigns, although it is always dangerous to think too far ahead in Irish football.

Pat Fenlon's appointment as Shamrock Rovers manager has brought him back into contact with his old nemesis Stephen Kenny.

They've had plenty of scraps over the years and, while relations were civil at Wednesday's press day, it's fair to say there is an intense rivalry between the pair that has boiled over at times.

"I wouldn't say we've had run-ins," grinned Fenlon. "We've had encounters, I suppose, because we've managed top sides."


They sparred when Fenlon was Shels boss and Kenny led Bohemians, and jousted again when Fenlon took over at Bohs and fought with Kenny's Derry.

Now, in different colours, the duo who both gave Scotland a crack are engaged in fierce competition once more, with a coincidental series of meetings between their current employers getting Fenlon straight back into the swing of things.

Monday's FAI Cup quarter-final replay win in Oriel for the Hoops gave him just his sixth win from 37 head-to head battles with Kenny's charges.

However, that doesn't tell the full story of their history as Fenlon has collected more silverware, with his sides coming out stronger in the 2006 title race and a thrilling FAI Cup final in 2008

Kenny is trying to pick up his first trophy with Dundalk today after Monday's disappointment, although he has stressed that the priority is still league victory, with the leaders very much in control of their own destiny entering the final five matches.

Still, there should be a real bite in this fixture, even if the men in the dugout shuffle their options with a view to the remainder of term - they will also meet at the Louth venue in the league.

Dundalk will start with a couple of players who have been largely restricted to cup duties due to the settled nature of Kenny's preferred selection, with Mark Rossiter the prime example.

The experienced defender picked up an injury at the start of season which allowed right-back Sean Gannon into the side. "He (Gannon) has been the best full back in the country this year," Rossiter says, without complaint.

Rossiter is not surprised that the Hoops have sharpened up under Fenlon, a man the 31-year-old knows well from four years under his stewardship at Bohs. He is well placed to assess the two gaffers.

"Pat would put the fear of life into you at some stages when we were at Bohs but maybe he's mellowed a little bit now that he's older," he laughs,

"I'm sure if boys aren't performing for him he's still there to put a rocket up them, whereas Stephen is very controlled, he's a bit more meticulous than your average manager. He's very similar to Liam Buckley and wants lads to go and express themselves."

That freedom has helped an emerging Dundalk group to thrive, yet they face a mental test from this juncture as they seek winners' medals.

As it stands, they're all out of contract when the season ends but Rossiter is relaxed about that and reckons his younger colleagues are more focused on options across the water than the local merry-go-round.

"If you're on a good thing, maybe it's not in your best interests to leave for a couple of euro more," he asserts.

"Being happy and playing well is more than important than maybe going to another team and playing where you're not necessarily as happy. I suppose any of the lads that go (at end of season) will be going to England."

Before that, they've got to concentrate on leaving a legacy. The FAI are hoping for a lively occasion after a coin toss gave home advantage to the Lilywhites.

A temporary stand has been constructed to facilitate travelling fans, although it's the controversial artificial pitch that irks players.

"What can you say?" says Hoops skipper Conor Kenna. "I don't like it, that's my opinion but you just have to go and play. We went up there and won on Monday so you have to deal with it. It's the same for both teams."

Dundalk v Shamrock Rovers

Live Setanta Ireland, 5.45



Richie Towell v Shane Robinson

Pat Fenlon was delighted with the manner in which his team stopped Dundalk playing through the middle on Monday night, and Towell was certainly subdued.

The Hoops boss has a few options for the engine room but feels aggression in that department can hinder Dundalk so it would be a surprise if Robinson didn't figure in his game-plan.

Stephen Kenny may also shuffle his midfield deck, yet Towell is a key figure and a goalscoring threat breaking from deep that will be keen to make up for a rare off night.

Irish Independent