SSE Airtricity League Preview: Kenny and Mullins two of a kind as Dundalk aim to get back on track
SSE Airtricity League Premier Division:
Dundalk vs St. Patrick’s Athletic
By Caoimhín Reilly
In a week where the Mullins/Walsh combination defied the haters to triumph quite memorably at the Cheltenham Festival, Dundalk will once again have to prove their worth to League of Ireland’s onlookers when St. Patrick’s Athletic visit Oriel Park on Saturday night.
It truly is extraordinary to doubt, at any stage, the ability of Willie Mullins and Stephen Kenny to get their troops to perform, as they do so like few others.
Both manage to produce the goods, and have continued to do so despite having lost plenty of their prize stock.
While Mullins was deprived of some of Min, Annie Power and Faugheen when plotting for the Festival, Kenny saw his own star names depart in Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle and Ronan Finn ahead of the new term.
The doubters questioned whether the ‘newbies’ like Michael Duffy, Conor Clifford or Jamie McGrath would be up to the task of replacing the Dundalk supremo’s tried and trusted allies.
Three wins on the opening three days of the season quelled such reservations, although Monday night’s humbling in Derry has those envious of the Lilywhites wielding their pitchforks once more.
Gabriel Sava, who had kept clean sheets in his two previous league games, and Paddy Barrett, who has been outstanding thus far in the term, were targets for criticism.
Anxious supporters have been raising questions, particularly after looking at the start Sean Maguire and Cork City have made, they’re five from five as it stands.
Mullins and Kenny are alike in this sense though, there’s always those who are looking to shoot them down, to criticise and point out their weaknesses.
None more so than when Mullins failed to see a winner home in the opening two days of this week’s racing at Cheltenham. People were in awe at Nicky Henderson, much like John Caulfield is the belle of the League of Ireland ball at the minute.
This is no way doubting the undoubted skill of Henderson and Caulfield, but Mullins and Kenny have a special touch in their relative fields.
Kenny has defended Sava and co the same way as Mullins stood by Walsh and his faltering equine beasts in the midst of a public slating.
“I have looked at the video again of our game against Derry City from Monday night and it’s a game we didn’t deserve to lose,” Kenny told dundalkfc.com
“We didn’t really concede a chance overall and I felt we were the marginally better team.
“We must pay tribute to Gabby Sava. He hasn’t always been first choice but he has come in and played in some huge games. We will never forget him coming into the big game against Cork City in the league last year.
“People will be quick to criticise but he has been very loyal to the club. He could easily have moved but he wanted to stay with the most successful team in Ireland to prove himself and he has done well overall.”
Unlike Mullins, Kenny could potentially take some of his players out the firing line with a number of first-teamers returning to full fitness, but particularly because St. Patrick’s Athletic are enduring a rotten start to the league season with costly defensive errors omnipresent in their performances.
Officially it’s the Inchicore side’s worst start to a 21st century season, with the pressure increasing on their former title-winning manager Liam Buckley.
With Christy Fagan unable to rekindle his midas touch in front of goal so far, and with new signings Josh O’Hanlon, Patrick Cregg and Gavin Peers failing to illustrate why Buckley signed them, they appear a sitting duck for Kenny and Dundalk.
Although the return of Aidan Keena and Darren Dennehy from suspension may shore up their defensive deficiencies to a certain extent for the trip to Oriel Park, a ground which they haven’t won a league game at since August 2012.
“Individually we have top players,” Buckley told extratime.ie after Monday’s defeat to a Ciaran O’Connor inspired Finn Harps.
“But, collectively we are average. The players are all wanting to do right, it’s just that we are not doing well together. We need to get a better balance because we can’t afford to go on playing like that.
“I feel that we have enough in the dressing room to get points and whether it’s changing the style or the way we play, we’ll have to look at that over the next few games because it’s gone four games now and it’s still not right.
“I just want to get the team playing better.”
Something which both managers will want, i.e. their team playing better.
Kenny has Gary Rogers, Chris Shields and David McMillan available for selection again, with none of them having started a league game this season but playing 90 minutes during a midweek friendly with Institute.
Although, Stephen O’Donnell (thigh) and Shane Grimes (hamstring) remain unavailable while Sean Hoare may not be risked, despite playing an hour against ‘Stute.
Dundalk, on paper, look capable of riding the St. Pats challenge rooted to the bridle. And Kenny of performing a Mullins-like recovery under the gaze of a packed Oriel Park grandstand.
Verdict: Dundalk, 2-0