Stephen Kenny and Ian Baraclough realistic about title challenge
‘Anything can happen in football’ but chasing pack’s focus shifts to FAI Cup semi-finals
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny is determined to keep his squad together.
After a weekend over which their own sides’ slip-ups handed total control of the title race to St Patrick’s Athletic, Dundalk’s Stephen Kenny and Sligo’s Ian Baraclough find themselves having to pick their players up for this weekend’s Ford FAI Cup semi-finals while already planning ahead for their next assault on the championship.
Both men are clinging to the idea that “anything can happen in football” but deep down they are realistic about the situation, with Liam Buckley’s men needing to blow the title at this stage.
Baraclough acknowledges the “smart money is on St Pat’s now”, while Kenny sounds fairly resigned to the prospect of the Dubliners tightening their grip on the title at Belfield this Friday.
Most immediately, the situation ups the ante somewhat in their respective semi-finals against Shamrock Rovers and Drogheda United on Sunday. Already, though, the managers are having to map out their plans for next season, with most of their players in limbo as the campaign draws to a close and Baraclough himself still not completely sure of where his future lies once the last game of 2013, hopefully a cup final, has concluded.
“I have not signed a deal,” confirms the Englishman. “A lot of talks have been going on and they are ongoing. We are getting closer rather than further away but it’s not financial packages . . . it’s making sure we are singing off the same hymn sheet in terms of where we go football-wise.”
Baraclough has particular sympathy for his players given that no decisions can be made on their positions until his is resolved but, he observes with more than a hint of resignation: “That’s the nature of Irish football, isn’t it. There are not many clubs who can say they have all their players tied up for next year. The merry go round starts again and nobody likes the situation, including managers who want to get on with it and players who want to know where they stand at the end of the season, whether they have something coming in over the winter and for the following season. It’s not very nice times for anyone really.”
Kenny, meanwhile, faces the challenge of keeping his squad together less than a year after he assembled it pretty much from scratch. Every single one of his players was recruited on a one-year contract and while one or two have re-signed in recent weeks, the bulk are up for grabs with the manager admitting: “We have some work to do.”
Caught the eye
Many of his players will have caught the eye of Kenny’s rivals in recent months and the competition will, at the very least, put pressure on the Dubliner’s budget, as better wages are sought. He remains hopeful, nevertheless, about the bulk of the group and, in particular, star performers like Pat Hoban and Richie Towell.
The latter has been attracting interest from England and Kenny feels that “a sideways move wouldn’t be the best for him . . . his next move should be something very big”.
The first challenge for the manager and his players, however, is rather more immediate with all having to scrap it out slightly for tickets for Sunday’s game at United Park.
“I think we’re getting around 500 or something like that,” he says, “after having 1,500 in Inchicore on a Friday night. There are people camping out up there tonight trying to get them . . . they’re tougher to get than One Direction tickets which my daughters are after. Actually,” he adds with a laugh, “I might get a couple for the game and exchange them.”