Dundalk can draw hope after holding their own
Dundalk's Richie Towell and Ronan Finn of Shamrock Rovers battle for possession at Oriel Park last night. Photograph: Inpho
Dundalk 0 Shamrock Rovers 0: The teams may have been tied at the end but those in the home camp are bound to view this as a minor victory for Stephen Kenny. He, after all, has taken over at Dundalk where avoiding relegation in the play-offs last season briefly managed to make the whole campaign seem like a success. Trevor Croly must get used to life at a club where failing to win the league is going to be regarded as failure.
Neither man will be setting too much store by the very first game of the season but Kenny clearly had more cause to be encouraged.
After so much close-season upheaval it is difficult to know quite what to expect from the Oriel Park outfit but serious improvement is certainly high on the list and the early signs here were that that much will certainly be delivered.
Up front they lacked bite and only occasionally threatened to grab the goal that would have delivered an unexpected victory. And at the back too there were occasional signs that the new-look defence is still getting acquainted. Overall, though, they lived with just about everything that the would-be championship contenders could throw at them.
That said, the game might have been decided in the visitors’ favour by a Gary McCabe penalty in the 66th minute after Dane Massey had brought down Billy Dennehy just inside the area. The spot-kick was poor, though and Peter Cherrie saved with his trailing hand having gone the right way.
Late on in injury time Massey was sent off after picking up a second yellow for a foul on Karl Sheppard. He had few complaints but after the free kick that followed came crashing back off the wall and the final whistle sounded, neither did many of the 2,598 in the stands.
Ridden their luck
The hosts might have ridden their luck a little over the course of the second half but in the first they were every bit as good as their opponents even if they did look fractionally less likely to actually score.
Kenny’s team was, as most of the club’s fans must have hoped it would be, more or less unrecognisable here from the one that so regularly lost its way over the course of the last campaign. One of last night’s stars is the club’s longest serving players at this stage, though, with goalkeeper Cherrie coming to his back four’s rescue more than once by racing out of his box to clear even before he saved that McCabe spot kick. His one real fumble of the night came early on when he spilled a Dennehy header but nobody reacted and he was able to gather up the loose ball quickly enough.
The other of the home side’s outstanding players was newly arrived with Richie Towell making a major impact on the game from early on.
Much of it was played in Dundalk’s half but the former Celtic and Hibernian midfielder did a great deal to ensure that the territorial advantage didn’t translate into a more tangible sort of threat.
Constantly moving and looking for the ball when team mates had it, the under-21 international consistently used it well too, shrugging off pressure from opponents to find someone in space and playing a key role in changing the direction of the game when the locals looked like they might start to get bogged down close to their own area.
All around him, though, Kenny’s men worked hard to make life uncomfortable for Rovers and there were long spells during which the Dubliners looked a little unnerved by all the close attention.
The pitch can’t have helped but then the Dundalk players didn’t generally look much more at home on the surface, but the visitors’ inability to retain the ball for any length of time inevitably undermined their hopes of opening up their hosts at the back.
They’d averaged nearly five a game against Dundalk in their last three meetings but had to settle on this occasion for a first scoreless draw between the sides in seven years. They should push on during the coming weeks and enjoy much better nights. For last year’s whipping boys, it seems, the only way is up.