Dundalk team manager Shane Keegan took encouragement from his side’s display despite their wait for a first victory of the season continuing at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night.
The Laois man said there were “an awful lot of positives” on the night despite the 2-1 defeat and expressed the view that his side’s performance was much better than the one against Finn Harps seven days earlier when the Lilywhites lost out on the same scoreline.
Asked if he felt both goals could have been kept out, Keegan said: “I thought there was a difference between the two of them but obviously I’m only seeing them in real time.
“I’m directly behind Danny (Mandriou) as he hits the ball, as soon as it leaves his boot, I think it’s heading into the top corner, maybe it’s different on TV, and the second one, again, I initially didn’t think there was any questions but it has been said to me we could have done better on the second one but jesus if you’re telling me coming here that we’re going to be limiting them to potshots from distance like that… I’ve had a quick look at the numbers and if you told me that it would be six shots on target to three shots on target in our favour coming here, we’re taking those numbers all day long because you’re expecting to come out on the right side.”
Keegan said there were positives to take from the display, particularly in the second half.
“They did look dangerous on the break too to be fair to them but, yeah, look, losing Garts as early as we did threw us off our stride.
“We started with our game plan in the back three and he was very, very important in that. We’ve eventually gone to change shape and looking back on it, there’s no doubt we should have done that sooner. As soon as we lost Garts we probably should have done that.
“We know that on the sideline and we’ve spoken about it in the dressing room and once we have changed to it, yeah we’ve absolutely bossed it from there for the next half an hour. Three off the woodwork is it? I said last week I thought Mark McGinley made a save that was going to be in one of the top three this season but Mannus has topped it with one of the saves there tonight. He was excellent for them in fairness.
“The only thing this week has in common with last week is that we’re coming away with zero points again. Last week was awful, everything we did last week had to be thrown out, and it was start from scratch, that’s absolutely not the case with this week’s performance. This week’s performance had an awful lot of positives, an awful lot we would try to build on and it genuinely shows we are moving in the right direction.”
When it was pointed out that the conversation over the goalkeeper was the same as last week, Keegan said: “Yeah he’s going to be annoyed at himself if there’s mistakes two weeks in a row but without seeing it back, I don’t know whose blame it was at this moment.”
One of the key decisions of the match was to start 17-year-old Ryan O’Kane for the first time but the local youngster was subsequently withdrawn at half-time for Ole Erik Midtskogen.
On O’Kane, Keegan said: “Maybe we got that one slightly wrong.
“He just made such an impact for us last week and looked so good in training that it was a case of rolling the dice a little bit.
“The change is moreso again down to us deciding that we need to do things slightly differently in the second half. If we made a decision to do things differently in the second half and go a bit more direct then it makes sense to replace a 5ft 5in fella with a 6ft 5in fella.
“Ryan is an absolutely fantastic talent, he’s going to get so many minutes this season and he’ll have a huge impact on this season but Ole showed glimpses of why he’s going to be a useful addition as well,” said Keegan.
Shane Keegan has admitted Dundalk need to improve off the field as when as on it if they are to improve as a club.
For the third week in-a-row, the weekly press conference at Oriel Park last Wednesday was dominated by a talking point not directly related to the upcoming game.
In the latest debacle, Dundalk were shocked to learn that Sonni Nattestad would be banned for two matches following his President’s Cup red card, with the Faroe Islands defender set to miss the crunch games with Shamrock Rovers on Friday and Bohemians on April 9th as the first match of his ban couldn’t count against Finn Harps last weekend because he was on international duty.
Speaking about the matter, Keegan said: “We need to do our homework a little better.
“There has been a bit of turnover in the last while in terms of staff and we maybe weren’t as clued in as we needed to be.”
While Keegan’s comments highlight the fact that there isn’t a strong enough understanding of the FAI rules, supporters have been left increasingly frustrated by poor communication from the club in recent months.
On a personal note, I have made nine attempts to renew a season ticket dating back to last November with requests made in person and via email ignored while phone calls to Oriel Park have gone unanswered. I’m not alone in this regard.
Furthermore, as a player sponsor for the last few years it was surprising that I wasn’t asked again this year. Again, I’m not alone with one supporter of the club who has provided sponsorship over a 50 year period contacting me on Friday wondering why he hadn’t been asked. Those complaints might seem small fry but with 29 player sponsorship opportunities vacant as per Friday’s programme, that equates to income of over €10,000 that the club are potentially missing out, not to mention the loss of season ticket revenue.
For much of the past year the club has provided more drama than shows like Fair City and the simple things not being done is impacting the mood of a number of people at Oriel Park, most notably the players.
Friday’s match against Finn Harps might have been the first at Oriel Park this year but even last year after Harry Taaffe’s passing the usual sight of the pitch being brushed before kick-off and watered has been absent with no one seemingly taking up a task which infuriates the team when it doesn’t happen.
Keegan himself has spent much of the past few weeks and months dealing with paperwork in the office. For someone who is supposed to be the top man at the club now, that shouldn’t be his job. It’s almost the equivalent of hiring an architect to design an extension for your home and instead getting him to cut the grass.
Padraig McGowan has recently been appointed club secretary and while he has been a magnificent servant and supporter of the club over a long period, he is ultimately a volunteer who has a full time job in Dublin that is, rightly so, his priority.
For a club that is supposed to be the biggest in the country and aiming to be ‘the European club in Ireland’ it is baffling that the simple tasks are being overlooked and that jobs of great importance are being given to volunteers at a time when players are being recruited for presumably big sums from across the globe, some of whom will never be good enough for the first team.
As Keegan pointed out, there has been a high turnover of staff over the winter but Jim Magilton is now in his role as sporting director for three months.
He has brought some improvements already – that’s not in question – but it’s baffling that the club is in a situation where there are regular drone cameras flying above Oriel Park for promotional videos and yet the club can’t seem to respond to emails or pick up the phone.
A bit like the results on the field so far, the club must do better off it.
Shane Keegan defended goalkeeper Alessio Abibi after his howler paved the way for Finn Harps to record a first win over Dundalk in almost 14 years at Oriel Park last night.
The Albanian was caught in possession by Adam Foley three minutes before half-time as the striker charged down his attempted clearance with the ball deflecting to the net.
Despite Patrick Hoban pulling a goal back for the home side three minutes after the restart, Foley beat the Dundalk offside trap to get the better of Abibi again in the 63rd minute to ensure Ollie Horgan’s side made it two wins from two at the start of the new SSE Airtricity League Premier Division season.
It was the Donegal side’s first win over the Lilywhites in any competition since a 2-0 play-off victory in November 2007 and the first time they had won at Oriel Park in almost 15 years since a 3-1 victory in May 2006.
While most of the spotlight fell on Abibi after his error, team manager Keegan refused to point the finger at the 24-year-old saying the overall performance “wasn’t good enough” on the night.
“The goal is the goal but I’ve no real quarrel with the goal,” he said.
“We got a point out of Sligo last week because of Alessio and we won the President’s Cup the week before because of Alessio.
“Something like that will happen to a keeper. Now it shouldn’t happen to him more than once or twice in a season but when it does happen you’re relying on the rest of your team to get you out of jail and show enough quality to go and win the game anyway when something like that happens to you but unfortunately we haven’t done that,” said the Laois man.
Keegan said he didn’t think the error would impact Abibi’s confidence going forward.
“I doubt it. I like him. He’s a larger than life personality and, not that it will be water off a duck’s back to him, but he is big and bold enough to be able to deal with something like that.
“I don’t think it will hit his confidence and I think he will bounce back next week. He has made one outstanding save in the second half so I think he’ll be fine.”
Keegan said it was disappointing how little his side created and admitted the lack of matches in pre-season might have had an impact on the performance.
“It’s the conclusion you’d jump to after a result like that,” he said.
“The lack of bodies was a big problem for us as well. We think we’ve recruited really well and yet we were without four or five of those bodies that we’ve brought in. That said, we’ve put out a team onto the pitch that is good enough to go and win the game as well so it’s very little excuse for us to be able to lean on.
“Half an hour into the game Ollie is roaring at his lads to try and get into the game. We have dominated but we’ve dominated in terms of possession but let’s be honest, we haven’t created a huge amount for all the possession that we’ve had.”
The former Galway Utd boss said it was now important that Dundalk bounced back against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght on Friday night.
“We have zero time to feel sorry for ourselves,” he said.
“It’s Rovers, followed by Bohs, followed by Pat’s. If we’re going to wallow in self-pity then the season will be over before we get our act together so we’ve zero time to feel sorry for ourselves.
“We’ve got to put in an incredible week of hard work next week and we need to engage the brains as a collective and figure out what wasn’t good enough and how we’re going to fix it and just get to work on it,” said Keegan.
Dundalk team manager Shane Keegan is hopeful of having some players back from injury for his side’s first home league match of the season against Finn Harps on Friday (kick-off 5.45pm, live on WATCHLOI).
Having only named seven subs instead of the nine allowed for their draw away to Sligo Rovers on Saturday night, the Lilywhites will now be without both Raivis Jurkovskis and Sonni Nattestad for the visit of Ollie Horgan’s men due to international duty for Latvia and the Faroe Islands respectively.
Brian Gartland, who had hoped to be back in the squad for the trip to Sligo, suffered a setback in his attempted return from injury last week while Daniel Kelly and Sean Murray remain sidelined at present.
While Gartland and Kelly both have a chance of making this weekend, Keegan is hopeful that youngster Val Adedokun will also be available.
Asked why Dundalk only named seven subs in Sligo, the 39-year-old said: “Bodies and injuries.
“Garts had a little bit of a setback in terms of his recovery. We’re still a couple of bodies down with Daniel Kelly and Sean Murray so we need to get a few more back because we’re down a couple of bodies for the next game but at the same time we still have serious strength in depth.
“We’ll have a look at it during the week. There is a chance that we might manage to get one or two more bodies back. I don’t think Val’s injury would definitely rule him out for next week yet. I think Daniel Kelly may have a chance as well.
“We need to see over the weekend how Garts has reacted to his little bit of a setback.
“Again, I don’t think we can overly whinge or moan about missing a couple of bodies. We’ve got real strength in depth and we’ve got quality all over the field so we should be able to cope. You’re going to be down a couple of bodies be it from international duty, suspension or injury over the course of the season and you just have to deal with it as best you can.
“I mean you can only bring on a certain amount of bodies too. The 20 player thing is probably a help in terms of less lads dissatisfied at not actually making the match day squad but does it affect how you can actually impact a game? No because the first five subs who you’re likely to use are the first five whether you’re naming 18 or 20.”
Following their opening day victory over Bohemians at Finn Park, this will be the Donegal outfit’s first visit to Oriel Park ahead of Dundalk in a league table since first half goals from Gary Crossan and Kevin McHugh earned them a 2-0 victory on August 26th 2004.
After their strong finish to last season, Keegan is expecting a tough test from a Harps side who drew 0-0 on their last visit to Oriel Park last October.
Anything you say about Harps at this stage sounds clichéd but they’re still true,” he said.
“Ollie, you just don’t ever get an easy game off him. Their tails will be up on the back of that one so it probably does make it a little bit even tastier again.”
Dundalk boss Shane Keegan feels his side couldn’t have asked for a much tougher start to the season than the one the fixture computer has thrown up.
After Saturday’s trip to face a Sligo Rovers side who were the most in-form side apart from Shamrock Rovers after the league resumed after its Covid-19 enforced break last summer, the Lilywhites are set to face a Finn Harps side who also finished last season in impressive fashion.
After that is a return trip to Tallaght to face the champions on April 2nd followed by the visit of last season’s runners-up Bohemians to Oriel Park on April 9th. This will be followed by three further games in quick succession at home to St Patrick’s Athletic on April 16th, away to Derry City on April 19th and at home to Drogheda on April 23rd.
For a side who traditionally start slow, on paper at least the start to the season couldn’t be much tougher.
“It’s about as tough as you could ask for as a start because you’re playing all the rest of the top half of the table teams pretty much straight off the bat,” said Keegan as he looked ahead to the start of the season this weekend.
“It’s definitely as tough as it gets not only in terms of the opposition but if you look at April and, particularly if the Harps game gets pulled and re-fixed, there’s already a date in the calendar for when it could get put back in and that’s April 13th I think which would then mean that we would end up having seven games in the month of April which would be a really tough test so early in the season to be cramming in that many games.
“Looking at it from a physiological point of view, you’d like the bodies to be a little bit more wintered before they have to go through that amount of games but at the same time if we can get everybody back fit, which we are working towards, we do have pretty good strength in depth and you’d hope you’d be able to cope with it in that sense.”
First up for Dundalk is a Sligo side who, despite losing last season’s top scorer Ronan Coughlan to St Patrick’s Athletic, have strengthened with the acquisitions of Greg Bolger, Colm Horgan, Jordan Gibson, Walter Figueira, Robbie McCourt and Romeo Parkes to name but a few with local youngster Johnny Kenny also proving majorly impressive in pre-season.
Speaking about Liam Buckley’s men, Keegan said he feels they’re not an opponent who can be taken lightly.
“They’re a decent side,” he said.
“They’ll have to have expectations of doing very well this season. I’ve watched them once or twice already in pre-season and they’re very well balanced. They’re starting to look more and more like a Liam Buckley side.
“I think the second half of last season was the first time you’d have looked at them and started to see his imprint on them. What I’ve seen in pre-season they look even more like a Liam Buckley side now than they ever did.
“I think Greg Bolger’s recruitment is probably the key one in that sense. Colm Horgan has gone in there as well. I had Colm at Galway and he’s another fella who is very comfortable on the ball. I think they’ll be a team who will try and have as much a monopoly on the ball as possible. They’ll be really steady.
“No more than any of us because we’ve lost players and Rovers have lost players but the big one for Sligo is how they cope with not having Ronan Coughlan because he did have a very, very good year for them last year, there’s no doubt.
“It’s between Romeo Parkes and John Kenny to fill that void and obviously John Kenny, in particular, has set things alight in pre-season. If they manage to get that part of it right they’ll be a great side.
“I think in the first two thirds of the field they’ll be as good as anything around but if they manage to get the final third right as well then they’ll be a serious outfit,” said Keegan.