Dundalk first-team coach Shane Keegan is set to be a busy man this year having taken on a hurling manager’s role in his native Laois.
The 39-year-old is now a key part of Filippo Giovagnoli’s backroom staff having graduated from opposition analyst following the Italian’s arrival at Oriel Park last August.
As well as his Dundalk commitments, Keegan will also now act as Rathdowney-Errill hurling manager for the 2021 season.
A native of Rathdowney, the former Galway Utd and Wexford boss was confirmed for the position on Sunday. He takes over from John Delaney, who guided the club to senior championship success in 2019.
Though his main background is in soccer, Keegan has a very strong coaching pedigree and was linked with the vacant Meath hurling managerial position lasts year.
Rathdowney-Errill were beaten in the semi-final of the 2020 championship by Borris-Kilcotton with the final against Clough-Ballacolla still to take place due to Covid-19.
Dundalk opposition analyst Shane Keegan feels his side has what it takes to open their account in Group B on Thursday by taking something from Rapid Wien at the Allianz Stadion but is wary of a backlash from the Austrians.
Both sides go into Thursday’s game without a point on the board to date following respective defeats against Arsenal and Molde but Keegan is wary of a backlash from the Austrians, who lost 1-0 in Norway on Thursday night in a defeat that was more comprehensive than the scoreline suggests.
Keegan feels whether or not Greek international Taxiarchis Fountas returns from injury or not could be massive for Rapid, who currently sit second in the Austrian Bundesliga, two points adrift of league leaders Red Bull Salzburg who they meet on Sunday.
“I don’t think I’m saying anything that Rapid wouldn’t agree with, they had a horror against Molde,” said Keegan.
“By their own standards, they were really, really poor. When you look at their Arsenal performance you’re saying these guys are really excellent and we’re going to have our work cut out here. Then when you look at the Molde performance, you’re saying these are no great shakes at all.
“The two European performances were very much Jekyll and Hyde but the one thing you would probably take into it is that the guy who scored against Arsenal, Fountas, who from my analysis so far appears to be their best player missed the Molde game so he would take a significant amount from them. It’ll be interesting to see if he comes back in because he was 50/50 for the game on Thursday night but I assume they’d be hoping to have him back against us.
“From their perspective they would have to be looking at last Thursday night as a blip that they have to fix as quickly as possible but we’re not going in with any fear. It’s going to be a really, really tough game but we will be going in believing we can pull something off in it.
“Despite two opening defeats, I don’t think it’s beyond the possibilities for us to rally and get something from the group,” he said.
Asked what to expect from Dietmar Kühbauer’s side, the Portlaoise man said: “They’ve been an interesting team to analyse. Heading into Sunday’s game they had played five different formations over their previous five games so from an analyst’s point of view it’s kind of head scratching as to what to expect from that point of view.
“They’re a quality side though. It would have been a big shock for them to lose to Molde last week because they were firm favourites to win that one but they did bounce back with a 3-1 win in the league. They’re a really good side and they’re going to have the bit between their teeth now having lost last week.
“We have nothing to fear though. I felt that we were very much in the game against Molde. Yes, they were very good for that 20 minute period at the start of the second half but that was the only period of the game where they really bossed us.
“All statistics are showing at the moment that home and away makes very little difference with the lack of crowds so I’d believe that we can put it up to Molde 100% when we go back out there and if you go on horse racing form and you see that Molde beat Rapid then you believe that we should be well in the game in the home and away games against them as well,” said Keegan.
Of all the opponents Shane Keegan has scouted this season, you might think Arsenal would be the easiest to prepare for.
After all, they’re a side many in the Dundalk dressing room would watch week in, week out and many of the names such as Aubameyang, Lacazette, Partey, Luiz and Tierney roll easily off the tongue.
However, speaking ahead of the trip to London this week Keegan admits that the Gunners are arguably the toughest side to prepare for as it was close to impossible to know what sort of line-up they would go with at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night.
“To be honest that’s the biggest difficulty from my side of things this week. Normally you can make a fair stab at the opposition’s starting 11 and get it fairly right, which we have done in the past, but Arsenal can pick from 25 players and it’s a complete lucky dip.
“Are they going to go as strong as they went last week or is there going to be fellas like Joe Willock and Emile Smith Rowe given a chance because they’d see us as lesser opposition? Quite possibly, but it’s very frustrating in terms of trying to guess the personnel.
“That’s next or near to impossible but I suppose all we can do is look at is Mikel Arteta’s principles and Arsenal’s principles because they are likely to remain the same regardless of who the personnel are on the pitch.
“They’re likely to defend the same, build-up the same and attack the same so we’ll try and nail down that so at least the boys understand that side of it and then whatever names come out we’ll try deal with that.”
Keegan admitted that Dundalk’s own priorities might have changed in the wake of defeat to Waterford on Sunday with victory over St Patrick’s Athletic next weekend now arguably more important as they look to secure European football for themselves again next summer.
“If we’re being brutally honest, today’s result has to have an impact on our priorities,” he said.
“I’d say the team Filippo was planning on picking Thursday night is now a very, very different team than what he was going to pick because we have to win next Sunday. It’s as simple as that.
“Speaking so closely after a final whistle, there’s a lot of frustration because if we had gone and got a result today then we could really have gone and enjoyed Thursday but it’s slightly different now to be honest but we’ll probably get over it in the next 24 hours or so and we do need to go and give a good account of ourselves on Thursday night.
“I’m not saying we’re going to completely write it off but we can’t have a repeat next week of what we had this week where we just completely took our eye off the ball.”
Keegan, a self confessed Spurs fan, will once again be Dundalk’s only man in the technical area at the Emirates on Thursday as the only Pro Licence holder at the club. While he admits he is enjoying his increased involvement since Vinny Perth’s departure in August, he said he had a lot of sympathy for Filippo Giovagnoli.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t enjoying it. It’s going to be an enjoyable couple of days over there but we have to make sure we’re there to play soccer and do our business. We’re not there to be tourists and smile regardless of how the performance goes.
“In terms of being in the technical area, you’d be lying if you said it wasn’t enjoyable being that involved but at the same time I can’t help but put myself in Filippo’s shoes and he must feel like he’s trying to manage with one arm chopped off.
“The fact that we found out so late that that was going to be the situation last Thursday probably meant that we didn’t have our communication lines bedded down quite so well so I think over the next few days the two of us and Giuseppe need to have a chat about how we get those communication lines right and how we make sure that every message he wants put out onto the pitch is put out onto the pitch effectively.”
Keegan also said that Dundalk’s current schedule wasn’t helping the side but admitted they had little excuse to complain.
“Of course it’s tough but unfortunately if you state the fact that it’s tough then other people will interpret that as whinging and moaning. We’re not whinging and moaning. We’re absolutely loving the situation that we’re in but you can be enjoying the situation that you’re in while also the reality is that it is very tough to deal with.
“I was just chatting to Tadhg Ryan as I was coming out there who I had at Galway and he was saying Waterford are off for the next three days. What our lads wouldn’t give for three days off but then what wouldn’t Waterford give to be heading off to the Emirates this Thursday so it swings both ways.
“It is tough and not just tough from a physicality and mentality side but it’s really tough for Filippo and Giuseppe because they’re getting maximum one proper training session to prepare for some massively important games and that’s a really, really crazy scenario.
“You’re used to a working week and how it flows. If you lose one training session out of a working week well then you should still be able to do the vast majority of what you’re trying to cover but when you’re trying to do absolutely everything in the space of one proper training session, that is extremely challenging and that probably did bite us in the arse a bit today.
“Again, it’s the reality of the situation that we’re in so we just have to deal with it and try to get that balance of trying to juggle two balls at the same time a little bit better,” he said.