When Dundalk return to pre-season training at the end of the month there will be a few familiar faces missing. While Lilywhite supporters have had several weeks to contemplate a future without the likes of Gary Rogers, Sean Gannon, Dane Massey, John Mountney and Sean Hoare, James Rogers looks back on the contribution of five players who collectively won an incredible 67 honours during their time at Oriel Park.
Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to Gary Rogers is that he made people very quickly forget about his predecessor Peter Cherrie, the hugely popular goalkeeper he who he was brought in to replace just weeks after the first league win of this era at the end of 2014. Rogers had his critics at times, which you’d expect given his position, but even in his few bad moments he had a remarkable resilience to always be able to bounce back – even overcoming a broken bone in his hand to regain his place in the side after briefly being dropped in 2016. As someone who witnessed Rogers in action perhaps more than most, there are so many moments when he made a big save at 0-0 or 1-0 before Dundalk went on to win 2-0 or 3-0. To those just looking at results, it regularly looked like a comfortable win for his side but it could have been so different but for his contribution. On a grander scale, Dundalk would not have been able to pull off that memorable victory over BATE Borisov in Tallaght in 2016 were it not for some top saves from Rogers in the first leg in Belarus in which Stephen Kenny’s side were fortunate to escape with just a 1-0 defeat. As well as equalling Alan O’Neill’s record of 23 clean sheets in a league season – also achieved with Dundalk in 1990/91 – Rogers made crucial saves in shoot-out victories away to Riga and Sheriff in 2019 and 2020 which not only earned the club millions in revenue but also arguably saved Vinny Perth’s job in Latvia and earned Filippo Giovagnoli his in Moldova.
Had you told me Sean Gannon would go on to the career he had after his Dundalk debut in March 2014 I’d have laughed at you. A relative unknown when he was signed from St Patrick’s Athletic by Stephen Kenny, Gannon was given a truly torrid time by Gavin Brennan as Drogheda won 4-1 at United Park. He was taken out of the firing line after 80 minutes of that game and actually dropped for the following week’s victory at home to Limerick in which his replacement Mark Rossiter both scored and gave a man of the match display. A hamstring injury for Rossiter late on in that game gave Gannon an immediate route back into the side though and he never looked back, even scoring a memorable team goal to cap off a resounding 4-1 win for his side away to then champions St Patrick’s Athletic a few weeks later which really showed that Stephen Kenny’s side were ready to challenge for the title. He has been largely a fixture in the side since then and the fact Dundalk dropped 16 points in the eight league matches he missed in 2017 shows how important he became. He would chip in with some big goals over the years too, most notable the 1-0 win over Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght in 2019 and in the EA Sports Cup final away to Derry City in the same year. He was also one of the side’s biggest attacking threats with his cross for Patrick McEleney’s winner in the 2018 FAI Cup final one fo the most memorable of his many assists. It will be tough seeing him in Rovers colours next season but it shouldn’t taint his achievements for Dundalk.
Of all the departures from Oriel Park this winter, John Mountney’s probably tugs on the heart strings the most. Having been part of the squad which narrowly avoided relegation in the play-off in 2012 – a year when the club itself was perhaps fortunate to survive – his story, along with that of Chris Shields, was one of the best. The Mayo man had been there during the dark days but went on to play a big role in the best ones. While he might never have achieved the status of a regular, Mountney was frequently called upon for the big occasion and never really let the side down. Indeed, he was the side’s lucky general with Dundalk winning on each occasions in which he scored. Mountney would have been 10 seasons at Oriel Park this year but it’s understandable that he feels, at 27, that he needs a new challenge and to play more regularly. One of the biggest compliments you can give him is that he arrived at Oriel Park as a teenager and always carried himself with the utmost class and dignity when it would have been easy for someone of his age living away from home for the first time to let success go to their head. Dundalk will miss Mountney’s versatility going forward but hopefully as a town we haven’t seen the last of him. At the end of last year he got engaged to local girl Shannon Moran – a member of a well known family from Bay Estate – so he will still be a familiar sight in the area at least. A quiet lad overall, he’ll have some story to tell in years to come.
Often the most overlooked of Dundalk’s famous back four in which he regularly featured alongside Gannon, Gartland and Boyle, there was definitely no lack of appreciation for Dane Massey from Dundalk supporters. For much of his time at Oriel Park he was Denis Irwin-like – solid in defence, a threat in attack and ultra consistent. While rightly remembered for his defensive displays, Dane scored some big goals over the years for the club as well. His superb double in the 3-2 EA Sports Cup final win over Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park in September 2014 earned Stephen Kenny’s side the first trophy of this era while he also scored the first goals of both Vinny Perth and Filippo Giovagnoli’s reigns. A bit like Tommy McConville against Celtic in 1979, people in years from now will always wonder what might have happened had Massey’s effort – at a time in which Dundalk were 1-0 up – had gone in off the post rather than rebounded off it against Zenit St Petersburg in Tallaght in 2016. Of all the departures this off-season, the left back’s is perhaps the saddest. Having scored a cracker away to Cobh Ramblers in Giovagnoli’s first game in charge, he would suffer a hip injury in training in the days after that which required surgery that ended his season. It was cruel for all players who ended their time at the club this year that they didn’t get to sign off in front of fans who had adored them for so long but the fact Massey’s time at the club came to an end doing TV punditry was not what he deserved for his service at Oriel Park.
While it’s fair to say that Sean Hoare is perhaps not held in the same sort of bracket of affection as the other four long-serving members of the squad which departed Oriel Park this winter, I’d imagine history will remember him more fondly. Many players can only dream of scoring a goal in an FAI Cup final but Hoare got to do it twice as Dundalk lifted the trophy in 2018 and 2020. While he perhaps isn’t as adored as the others having only joined in the days after the memorable 2016 season came to an end, Hoare made a superb contribution to title wins in 2018 and 2019 which shouldn’t be forgotten. His leap to score against Rovers when Dundalk clinched the title at Oriel Park in September 2019 summed up the sort of threat he offered at set pieces. He was a player with a fantastic attitude who was often selfless to his own detriment. An accomplished centre half, he was often asked to fill in at either right back or in central midfield. While he did many a fine job there, at times he was exposed as well from not playing in his best position. Another who has departed for Shamrock Rovers, his legacy at the club shouldn’t be forgotten just because of where he has ended up. It sums up how successful the last decade or so has been in the club’s history that another departure this week, Jordan Flores, won every trophy possible during his time here and yet will probably only be a footnote in the club’s history. Hoare made a big contribution to recent success and that shouldn’t be forgotten or overlooked.