Tuesday 20 November 2018

'Screaming down the phone' - Angry Stephen Kenny reveals how his skipper was the target of abuse from Cork City players

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

This time, it's personal. The rivalry between Dundalk and Cork has grown to the extent where it couldn't be any other way.

After four successive years battling it out for the league and the countdown to a third Aviva Stadium date in a row gathering pace, it's hardly surprising that Christmas cards are not exchanged.

On Dundalk's Halloween press day ahead of Sunday's FAI Cup final, Stephen Kenny made it clear that Mark McNulty's latest celebratory appearance on a nightclub stage had poured fuel on the flames.

The context is important. After three years as league bridesmaids, Cork revelled in finally getting one over Dundalk in last year's Ballsbridge showdown.

Veteran netminder McNulty got on stage in SoHo nightclub afterwards to offer his view that pundits had become obsessed with European darlings Dundalk. "There's no one saying anything about f***ing Cork," he said.

This year, the tables have turned and Cork are seeking a double on Sunday. In the immediate aftermath of their title success, McNulty paid tribute to Dundalk for pushing them all the way.

Trophy

But last Friday, the team were back on stage at SoHo to show the league trophy off to their fans.

McNulty was encouraged to take the microphone. He responded by leading a popular Cork chant which revolved around the line, 'F*** the Lilywhites' with 'They're f***ing s**t' added at one interval.

When it appeared on the venue's Facebook page, the viral clip was always going to spread to Dundalk and social media lit up.

City boss John Caulfield was subsequently asked about his goalkeeper's chant and said there was no harm in it, adding that it was part and parcel of the craic between clubs.

Kenny took a different view, and it's shared by a good number of his players. His unhappiness goes beyond McNulty's stage rally.

He brought up another story that swirled around in the aftermath of the fraught 2016 cup decider - a phone call to Dundalk skipper Stephen O'Donnell from another individual on the Cork City bus that was celebrating on its way down south.

The sombre Dundalk squad were on their way back up the M1 and distinctly unimpressed.

"To be ringing someone to taunt them within an hour of that and screaming down the phone. Why would you even bother doing that?" said an animated Kenny.

"The last thing on our own minds when we've won (has been that) - I think you would think of celebrating with your family and your team-mates and enjoying that experience.

"Stephen is the most successful captain in the modern times and carries himself with great dignity.

"He's won five league titles and he's been in two Europa Leagues. And so ringing down the phone when we're coming out of the stadium... this isn't a one-off," continued Kenny, who then turned to discuss McNulty's conduct.

"With the Lilywhites (name) you associate people like Tommy McConville, you associate people like Barry Kehoe, brilliant players.

"You think of people like Martin Lawlor being 18 years here, people like that. What he is doing there is insulting all of those players.

"I think you can have rivalry - teams don't have to like each other and that's normal, there is nothing abnormal about that - but I think there has to be a sporting respect, you have to have a sporting respect. That's sort of out of the gutter really."

In a seperate radio interview, the Dundalk boss added that "that kind of stuff doesn't do the game any good" and raised Caulfield's response.

"This isn't a once-off. If it's being repeated several times, obviously the manager doesn't seem to mind if that's the case and that's disappointing."

O'Donnell, for his part, feels that McNulty was playing to the gallery but repeated the view that Cork never crossed his mind during any of his medal-winning nights.

Cork have had their issues with Dundalk during a four-year scrap for top-dog status. Senior player Alan Bennett said he enjoyed cup joy 12 months ago because of on-pitch comments from the opposition in that year's title-deciding fixture.

The other sub-plot this week is that a prominent Cork player, Karl Sheppard, has agreed to join Dundalk for next term and Kenny did not exactly describe the tale as speculation.

"I don't want to put him in an awkward situation," he said, "It's not something I'm going to deny either at this stage, I'm not going to lie to you."

Defender Niclas Vemmelund is set to leave Dundalk to return to his native Denmark after the game, with Kenny hoping for an unlikely change of heart. What's certain is that his swansong will be a lively affair.

Irish Independent

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