Wednesday 25 April 2018

Kenny not getting deserved recognition as Dundalk close in on record-breaking title

Dundalk Manager Stephen Kenny
Dundalk Manager Stephen Kenny

Eamonn Sweeney

Dundalk's 2-0 win over Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park on Monday night puts them eight points clear at the top with seven games left, making them virtual certainties to win the League of Ireland title for a second year in a row.

Chances are they'll have things wrapped up with a couple of weeks to spare, at which stage their most interesting battle may be with the record books. Because Stephen Kenny's side are in with a shout of breaking the all-time record for goals scored in a League of Ireland season which was set by Shamrock Rovers in 1922-23.

Dundalk hit the goal trail big time last term with 73, the most scored by league champions since Bohemians scored 74 in the 1977-78 season. They're already on 60 goals from 27 games, surpassing the total scored in the entire season by 2013 champions St Patrick's Athletic (56) and 2012 winners Sligo Rovers (53). Shamrock Rovers' all-time record is 77 so Dundalk need 18 from their last seven games to break it, which might sound a tall order had they not been scoring at something close to that rate all season. Who knows?

So far this term Dundalk have put in one of the most dominant seasons the league has ever seen. They have dropped just 13 points in 26 matches, winning 20, drawing five and losing just one. John Caulfield, manager of their closest rivals Cork City, has come in for some criticism on Leeside but in fact City have done well to stay this close to the champions. Their 56 points from 26 games would look like title winning form in an ordinary season. Sligo Rovers, for example, won their title with 61 points from 30 games.

One record which will probably prove beyond Dundalk is the all-time league points record of 85, set by Bohemians when managed by current Shamrock Rovers boss Pat Fenlon in 2008. The Lilywhites would need to win their last seven on the trot to pull that off, which is unlikely even for them.

What's remarkable about Dundalk's glut of goals this season is that it has been achieved without a prolific striker. Last year's top scorer Pat Hoban left for Oxford United in the close season and Dundalk couldn't find another striker of the same calibre. Their top scorer this season, and the league's top marksman, has been Richie Towell, who has notched 16 from midfield. Their main striker David McMillan fetched up at the club after a barren time at Sligo Rovers and has lately been joined by Ciaran Kilduff, another player who has done the rounds of the League.

Yet, as has been his way at Dundalk, Kenny has made do with what he has. Dundalk's tally is founded on the fact that nine players have scored three or more times this season. No other team has managed to get more than six players on that mark. Someone has always popped up with the crucial goal for Dundalk.

Kenny remains one of the most underestimated personalities in Irish sport. GAA managers have only to win a single All-Ireland for the suggestions that they are 'world class', the self-praising interviews and the chat show appearances. Kenny, on the other hand, is a little known figure outside the league where he plies his trade. Yet his transformation of Dundalk has been utterly remarkable and has been achieved while hewing to the best values of the game.

Michael O'Neill, whose Shamrock Rovers team in 2010 and 2011 were the last to win back-to-back titles is currently doing an excellent job with Northern Ireland. Suggest that Stephen Kenny might be able to do something similar for the Republic and you'd be laughed out of it of course. Yet the man is still only 43 and I suspect there may be further interesting chapters to come in his story.

For the meantime Dundalk are lucky to have him on board. And so is the League of Ireland.

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