Shane Keegan admitted his frustration at Dundalk’s failure to get their season off to a winning start in Sligo at the weekend but was well aware they could have had no points at this stage just as easily as the one they left The Showgrounds with.
Speaking to the media afterwards, the Laois man said he felt his side were about to kick on after bright starts to both halves of the match but was relieved at the end not to have lost to Liam Buckley’s side.
Asked if the Lilywhites were hanging on a bit at the end, Keegan said: “Yep, we definitely were.
“It was a very frustrating game because at two different stages of the game I thought we were going to kick on and win the match. We’ve gone 1-0 up and you’re thinking let’s kick on now and go and get a second and then the game is over and we haven’t managed to do that and then in the first 10 minutes of the second half we started well and Pat has hit the post and there was the one he squared back to Cammy and there was a chance for Greg.
“Again, I was thinking just put the ball in the back of the net here and we’ll go on and win this game but then it became anything but.
“You get games every now and again where both management teams are probably coming away giving out and disappointed and that was definitely the case tonight because they’ll be coming away scratching their heads as to how they didn’t win it in the end.”
Keegan said a change in formation to bring Patrick McEleney deeper had paid dividends at the start of the second half but admitted that ultimately the switch left Dundalk exposed.
“We tweaked it a little bit at half-time and 15 or 20 minutes into it you’re thinking this tweak has really worked and it is working brilliantly and then by the final whistle you’re thinking maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do at all because we’ve ended up on the back foot for so long.
“They were being very aggressive in their press which we knew they would be which meant that we thought if there’s not a huge amount of space in front of them then maybe the space is behind them so that’s probably why we tweaked it a little bit and it has worked to a certain extent. Hoban, for the first 10 or 15 minutes of the second half, has bullied the life out of them really and really put us on the front foot but with any system it’ll give you some advantage but it’ll also give you some disadvantages and they probably exploited some of the disadvantages to the tweak at that stage then as well.”
Keegan admitted there were a few occasions where the side looked like they had still some work to do in terms of bedding the new signings in but he wasn’t overly concerned about it being a factor in the long term.
“It was probably the first time that we have seen signs of lads only getting the feel for each other a little bit,” said the former Galway Utd boss.
“We probably gelled a little bit better in some of the pre-season games but at the same time it is their fourth ever time playing together so it is inevitable that they’re not going to be fully on the same wavelength but yet they were in periods.
“From our point of view we need to establish a performance over 90 minutes rather than the likes of this game where it was up and down and peaks and troughs the whole time through the game. Trying to get a bit more consistency over the 90 minutes is key for us.”
Keegan said he felt the offside call to deny Mark Byrne a late winner for Sligo was the right decision but admitted he hadn’t seen it back despite Bit O Red officials insisting afterwards the linesman had got it wrong.
“I did expect the flag to go up but bear in mind I haven’t seen a replay.
“Now when I say I expected to go up, I was also praying it would go up when I was looking down the line but I did immediately look down the line expecting to see it but until I see it back they could be right, maybe it was onside. They were certainly appealing like they felt it was. If we’ve got away with one there we’ve got away with one.”
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.
Friday’s President’s Cup match against Shamrock Rovers might be little more than a glorified friendly but Dundalk team manager Shane Keegan is hopeful his side can win it to set them up nicely for their league opener away to Sligo Rovers eight days later.
The game at Tallaght Stadium (kick-off 7.45pm, live on WATCHLOI) will be the third and final match played by the Lilywhites as they prepare for the new season.
While there is greater prizes ahead than the President’s Cup, Keegan is well aware that a win over last year’s league winners would do the side no harm in preparing for their trip to The Showgrounds on Saturday March 20th.
“If we could go into the Sligo game with three from three it would be a great position to be in even if they’re only all friendlies,” he said.
“At the same time the performance is probably the most important. Avoiding injuries and getting match fitness into lads is another main priority. If you can tick all three boxes happy days but we just need to keep doing what we’re doing and hope we can get more of what we’ve had in the first two games.”
Keegan admitted the two matches up until now were less than the squad would have liked but is nevertheless confident they can hit the ground running having put in the hard yards in training as well.
“Because we’ve had a shortened pre-season in terms of game time, normally your first two friendlies you’re slowly bedding yourself but we don’t have five or six friendlies to slowly bed ourselves in so we had to hit the ground running last week as we did. It was the same again this week and again next week we need to leave everything out there during those three games to get ourselves where we need to be for the Sligo game.
“There’s no room to start slow which is why we’ve been doing so much in training in fairness as well.
“There’s a massive amount being done in training in terms of the tactical work and bedding down the foundations of what we want to see the lads trying to do and even in-house games. Right, we might have only had two friendlies in terms of playing opposition teams, but we’ve had to bring in U-19 players to make sure we can do 11v11 stuff in training as well.
“If we can get similarish out of next week as we’ve got out of the first two I think we’ll be at the level that we need to be for the opener,” said Keegan.
Meanwhile, the 39-year-old is hopeful that some of the club’s injured stars – Brian Gartland, Daniel Kelly, Cameron Dummigan, Michael Duffy, San Murray, Sonni Nattestad and Ole Erik Midtskogen – will be back in contention for the trip to Tallaght on Friday.
“Yeah, I’d like to think some will be back or maybe be ready for the bench next week to get 15 or 20 minutes and then maybe push harder then for the first league game.
“They’re kind of all there or thereabouts. There’s maybe six out at the moment but it’s kind of hard to put your finger on which two might not make the opener against Sligo. The chances of all six being back are probably slim but we’ll see.
“We had to pull Sonni late enough today so he nearly made it. Cammy too is very nearly there. Mickey Duffy was moving really, really well in individual training yesterday so he is going to be there or thereabouts. Garts was out getting a bit done before the start of this so they’re all kind of getting there.
“Sean Murray is maybe struggling a slight bit more than the rest but they’re all kind of getting there and I’d think we’ll probably only be a body or two down for the Sligo game,” he said.
For the first time in 45 years, Dundalk will open their league campaign with a trip to The Showgrounds to face Sligo Rovers when the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division gets underway next month.
Fixtures for the 2021 campaign were released last Monday evening with Filippo Giovagnoli’s side pencilled in to face a side who beat them home and away last season in the first match on Saturday March 20th.
While Dundalk and the Bit O Red have met four times on the opening day more recently, you have to go back to October 1976 to find the last time it occurred in Sligo.
The most recent opening day meeting between the pair was in 2019 in what was Vinny Perth’s first league match in charge. On that occasion Sean Murray marked his debut with a 49th minute goal that cancelled out Jack Keaney’s opener two minutes before the break as the sides settled for a 1-1 draw. That game was perhaps best remembered, however, for leg breaks sustained by Robbie Benson and Patrick McEleney.
Prior to that Dundalk had last met Sligo on the opening day under Trevor Anderson on March 18th 2004 when Stephen Geoghegan marked his debut with the only goal as the Lilywhites won 1-0 at Oriel Park.
Sligo had the better of things on the opening day of the 1998/99 campaign when two goals inside four minutes from Marcus Hallows and Conor O’Grady earned them a 2-0 victory over Jim McLaughlin’s side at Oriel Park. Prior to that Dundalk had won 2-0, also at Oriel Park, on the opening day of the 1986/87 campaign courtesy of a Martin Murray penalty and a Dessie Gorman strike.
Liam Buckley’s side will hope the visit of Dundalk to The Showgrounds on the opening day is an omen as they went on to win what was just their second league title and first in 40 years when the Lilywhites last visited Sligo on the opening night in 1976/77.
On that occasion, the home side ran out 4-2 winners with the big news beforehand from the perspective of Jim McLaughlin’s side being that regular goalkeeper Richie Blackmore missed out having been injured in the 6-0 European Cup defeat away to PSV Eindhoven a few days earlier with Eddie Mahon taking his place between the sticks.
Despite that, Mick Lawlor gave Dundalk the lead in the game on 5 minutes but Paul ‘Ski’ McGee equalised with the aid of a deflection 20 minutes later before turning provider for Mike Betts on 43 minutes who left it 2-1 at the break.
Sligo added a third on the hour mark through a header from Gary Hulmes but Jimmy Dainty pulled a goal back two minutes later to leave it 3-2. Betts, who had just signed from Rochdale, secured the points for Sligo 13 minutes from time however with a fourth.
The Dundalk side that day was: Mahon, McManus, Brian McConville, McLaughlin, O’Brien (Sheehy 80), Dainty (Flanagan 80), McDowell, Cavanagh, Tommy McConville, Lawlor, Devlin.
The opening home game of the season will come on Friday March 26th when Finn Harps visit Oriel Park and that will be followed by a tricky run which includes the first league meeting against last year’s league winners Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium on April 2nd, followed by back to back home matches against Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic on April 9th and 16th respectively.
That game with Pat’s is the start of a run of three games in a week with a trip to face Derry City pencilled in for Monday April 19th followed by the first Louth derby of the season at Oriel Park on Friday April 23rd when newly promoted Drogheda Utd make the short trip up the M1.
There will be a trip to face Waterford at the RSC a week later before another journey to face newly promoted Longford Town on May 3rd in a match that will complete the first series of games.
Other key dates further along the calendar include the first visit of Shamrock Rovers to Oriel Park on May 21st, a trip to United Park on June 21st and a home fixture against Derry City pencilled in to conclude the season on November 19th when Dundalk will hopefully be lifting some silverware.
Before the league commences, Dundalk will travel to Tallaght Stadium on Friday March 12th to take on Shamrock Rovers in the President’s Cup final while other pre-season fixtures are expected to be finalised shortly after it was confirmed clubs could play friendly matches from February 21st onwards.
John Mountney says he wants to add more goals to his game after completing his first career hat-trick against Sligo Rovers on Friday night.
The Mayo man’s treble took his goal return in the league this season to four, equaling his career best from last season.
While he hasn’t set himself a target, he told The Argus of his desire to add more goals to his game.
“I haven’t set a target but I always knew that goals are something I need to add more of to my game so that was my main motivation this year.
“As a team, of course, we want to win things but individually for myself it’s to try and score a few more.”
A 4-0 win also ensured his record of Dundalk winning in all 22 matches he has scored in for the club continues.
“I’ll just have to try and keep scoring,” he said, when that stat was put to him.
“I wasn’t aware that it was my 200th league game as well but it was a great way to mark it.
“It’s the icing on the cake and a lovely touch to get my first senior hat-trick and do it at home in Oriel Park in front of the fans here was great.”
Mountney praised his colleague Pat Hoban for handing him the ball to take the penalty which secured his treble.
“Pat is our penalty taker and scored the first one tonight so it was a nice touch for him to give me the chance to complete my hat-trick. It was a lovely touch by Patrick just to hand me the ball.”
It brought back memories of a similar game against Sligo in May 2017 when Ciaran Kilduff allowed Jamie McGrath to take a late penalty to complete his first career treble.
“I remember that and it just shows the fact it happened a few years ago and again tonight that there’s a real togetherness about the group.
“Once we’re winning as a team the individual side of things doesn’t matter.”
Mountney said he was particularly pleased to have scored a couple of headers on the night.
“It’s a massive thing,” he said.
“Stephen O’Donnell was always on to me to be more of an aerial threat coming into the box. He was always betting me that I wouldn’t score headers but he probably can’t believe it now that I’ve got three of them this season.
“It’s something I always had the potential to add to my game and hopefully now it has come together a bit more.”
A 4-0 win made it 11 wins from 12 for Dundalk and continued their revival since losing 2-1 away to Sligo on April 12th. Mountney has been delighted with the turnaround since that night in The Showgrounds and is now anxious to keep it going away to Finn Harps this Saturday.
“It has been a great run since Sligo away. As well as scoring goals and winning games, our back line and goalkeeper are keeping clean sheets which is always a great sign.
“We’ve Finn Harps now away which is a tough enough venue to go to. It’s always tricky up there but we’ll just have to prepare right this week for that,” he said.