The Rise of Dundalk

Stephen Kenny has cracked a winning formula at Oriel Park. Since taking charge in November 2012, Kenny has won the League of Ireland Championship, the EA Sports Cup and the President’s Cup, doing so with a win ratio of over 65% in his 100+ games since taking charge.

He has assembled one of the most lethal and cohesive sides to grace the league in years, formulating a perfect blend of strength at the back, creativity in midfield and ruthlessness in attack. Kenny’s squad is not only blessed with depth, but he seemingly has the bulk of the league’s best players at his disposal.

The 2014 season was the one where Dundalk would finally make their mark as the top dogs of the League of Ireland, having finished three points off winners St. Patrick’s Athletic in 2013.

With the title going down to the final day in October, the Lilywhites overcame second-placed Cork City in a dramatic final day which would see the winner crowned champions and Stephen O’Donnell’s second half strike ultimately sealing the title.

Since that Friday night at Oriel Park in late October, Dundalk have gone from strength to strength. They have not lost a competitive game in seven months, carrying last season’s form with them into this season, standing firm and resolute at the top of the table with six wins from seven so far this season, scoring 13 goals and conceding one.

Having been written off by media and fans alike in pre-season for their chances of becoming the first side outside of Dublin to win back-to-back league titles in decades, Dundalk have swept aside all who stood before them, not allowing the departure of Patrick Hoban, who scored 20 goals last season, to get in the way of their title defence.

With players like Richie Towell, David McMillan and Gary Rogers, as well as Ronan Finn and Daryl Horgan, Stephen Kenny’s side look a grade above all others in the league so far this season, with the closest title challenger coming in Keith Long’s young Bohemians side who currently sit three points behind the men from County Louth.

With the news of more funding coming the league’s way in the form of UEFA prize money for clubs finishing in the European qualification places, it seems a genuine possibility that the gulf that currently splits Dundalk from the rest of the league could widen in time to come.

With fellow title-challengers St. Patrick’s Athletic and Shamrock Rovers both already pegged back in the run-in for top spot, Dundalk appear solitary in their back-to-back title bid, with John Caulfield’s Cork City the only present threat to that feat.

With the early-season blips of Sligo Rovers, who finished with a commendable 43 points last season, seeing the Bit O’Red manage only one win in seven games so far this season, the league looks a stretched and unrecognised bottle-neck of mid-table teams upon which Stephen Kenny’s side will be only too happy to capitalise.

With that said, the season is two months old. Nevertheless, the steamrolling of League of Ireland opposition that Dundalk are managing does not seem likely to slow down, even beyond this season.

New figures released last month show the League of Ireland champions are due to receive a minimum boost of €550,000 for taking part in UEFA Champions League qualification. This figure would rise to €1,000,000 if they were to reach the third round of qualification.

With this new income, Dundalk are likely to progress and develop even further as a club, with weekly attendances of 3,369 at Oriel Park (more than double the average league attendance of 1,530), the future of Dundalk appears eager and bright both on and off the field of play.

However, this bright future of Dundalk dominance may have wider, more negative connotations for the league itself with one of the undeniable attractions of the League of Ireland being its competitive nature.

As we can see from the more affluent examples of Bayern Munich in the German Bundesliga, as well as the yearly bout in Spain’s La Liga between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, a continual league champion can turn a league into a tediously lame non-competition.

On the field, the Lilywhites have looked superior to every opponent so far this season, beating Longford, Derry City, St. Patrick’s Athletic, Bohemians, Sligo Rovers and Drogheda United.

With no League of Ireland side having won back-to-back league titles since Shamrock Rovers four years ago, Stephen Kenny’s side have been the only recent threat to form a dynasty.

Nonetheless, the thunder and impedance showcased by Stephen Kenny’s side has shown the gulf in class that currently stands between first and second place, let alone top and bottom. Dundalk are mean-spirited enough not to allow the title to slip from their grasp for the coming season, upon which they feel it will take its rightful place at Oriel Park come October.


Aaron Gallagher

Image credit: Sportsfile

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