Stephen Kenny's special Dundalk moments keep on coming
‘There’s something about a cup final that is really euphoric in that instant,’ manager said
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny seemed to be struggling to contain the emotion of it all. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Not all of the Dundalk fans had stuck around long enough after their side had been presented with the FAI Cup for the 11th time to hear Stephen Kenny being interviewed somewhere in the smoky haze that had enveloped the pitch at the Aviva stadium but those who did will remember it.
Between the champagne soakings inflicted upon him by Pat Hoban, Kenny seemed to be struggling to contain the emotion of it all. The manager was gracious about a City side that had put it up to Dundalk again, describing them as “brilliant” opponents but he became far more emphatic as he talked about his own players.
The Dubliner seemed genuinely exasperated by the capacity of Pat McEleney to make the sort of impact he had in this FAI Cup final by scoring the winner. After that, he just seemed lost in the moment and the delight of Dundalk fans behind him was all too clear as, almost hoarse, and out of compliments to pay, he simply chanted “C’mon the Town! C’mon the Town!” before making for the far stand and his side’s dressing room where more chaos inevitably awaited.
Later, he would admit that the outpouring of joy had, in part, been prompted by the sense of relief he felt at winning here for the first time since 2015. “The atmosphere in the stadium today was really incredible,” he said, “more than in the other three years (at 30,412, the attendance was certainly significantly up), and the crowd seem to engage with it more.
“But it’s a lonely place to be when you lose; it would have been difficult to face again after the last two years.” And that would have been before he turned his thoughts to the civic reception the council had planned for them regardless of whether they had won here or not.
Now, he suggested, that will be “electric” and it had been “special” to clinch another double in the way his side had: “to be pushing and pushing,” as he put it, “knocking on the door then to win it in a euphoric moment like that.
“There’s something about a cup final that is really euphoric in that instant,” he continued “It was very special, a privilege to be a part of it really, a privilege to be part of such a great team to win in front of such a substantial crowd in the brilliant atmosphere we had in the stadium. It was a real pleasure.”
After Sean Hoare’s early goal and the penalty the defender had then conceded, that decisive moment had, from his perspective, been engineered by a substitution, Jamie McGrath for John Mountney, that had subtlety altered the shape of his side and opened up space for Sean Gannon who had teed Pat McEleney up to perfection with a simply wonderful cross.
John Caulfield, inevitably, saw it somewhat differently with the Cork City boss pinpointing the mistake made by Shane Griffin that resulted in McGrath stealing possession and setting the right back on his way. “He’s disappointed,” the manager acknowledged, “but he had been playing really, really well. He’s a phenomenal player but these things happen. Alan Bennett made a mistake but somebody covered for him, he made his and we were open.”
What was not in dispute was the quality of the assist or finish, a goal worthy of winning any final, as they say, even if everyone seemed surprised by the way it had been scored. “He doesn’t score too many with his head,” observed Kenny with a touch of understatement. The player himself revealed that it was just the second of his career “but I wasn’t playing all that great so I needed something like that. Now I’m over the moon.”
Down to earth
Caulfield, of course, has been brought firmly down to earth after the delight of this day 12 months ago but the City boss was gracious too, refusing to get drawn into a debate about whether Chris Shields might have been sent off for a second bookable offence early in the second half and preferring instead to express pride in a performance that had achieved much of what he and his players had wanted out of the game beforehand but clearly not enough.
“The two goals in the first half opened up the game up but there wasn’t much in it really and we got punished for a mistake, that was the difference between the two sides in the end,” he said. “It’s disappointing but we congratulate Dundalk as double winners. We were double winners last year. It’s disappointing but we shake hands and move on.”
The former City striker has much work to do with most of the club’s out-of-contract players, a long-enough list that includes their goal-scorer here Kieran Sadlier as well as Shane Griffin, Steven Beattie and Barry McNamee all set to move on. “Most of them,” he said, “have had better offers.”
For Dundalk, the immediate challenge is a little less daunting with the bulk of the team tied down for next season and the others sounding like they would rather like to hang around a little longer.
“I think we are getting back to where we were when we were in the Europa League,” said McEleney, who returned after a spell away during the summer, “and obviously that will be in our sights again next year. The league and cup here is our bread and butter but our sights are on Europe, that’s where we want to do well.”