When Kieran asked me recently to write a column on Between the Stripes I made a conscious effort to try and look at the league as a whole.
My first column focused on the emergence of Sligo Rovers teenager Johnny Kenny, while its follow-up was about how I felt the WATCHLOI product could be improved without having to break the bank. Whether they were of interest or not is for others to judge but up until now, I’ve tried to veer away from reporting on Dundalk, the club I’m most associated with covering. It’s hard to ignore one of the biggest stories in the league, however, and there will be many eyes on Oriel Park this Friday when a Dundalk side who have taken just one point from three matches to date come up against a Bohemians team with the exact same record. It might be only the fourth game of the season but this is a match that neither side dare to lose.
There have been many questions asked, including recently on the Between the Stripes podcast, about what is going on at Dundalk and I feel at times the club haven’t helped themselves by their silence. It will be two years ago on Monday, April 12th, since Dundalk slumped to a 2-1 defeat away to Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers were declared “title winners in waiting” having gone 13 points clear at the top of the table, albeit with a couple of games in hand. That was a concerning time to be a Lilywhites supporter. Stephen Kenny had recently departed and there were definite question marks over his old assistant Vinny Perth’s ability to step up into the top job. That night in The Showgrounds was bleak but Perth came out immediately from the dressing room and faced the music, held his hands up on certain matters, and earned credit for it. The rest, as they say, is history as Dundalk never really looked back from that moment that season and went on to win the title – ironically against the Hoops – with four matches to spare.
Fast forward 24 months on from that night and another management setup is equally at a crossroads. While no one in the media is calling for Filippo Giovagnoli or Shane Keegan’s head just yet, a large number of supporters have made their minds up about the pair.
Disappointingly, unlike what Perth did in Sligo two years ago, we can’t hear directly from the decision-maker with Keegan coming out after last Friday’s defeat to Shamrock Rovers to face the media to defend players he didn’t sign, a team selection he didn’t make and tactics that he might not even truly believe in. No player also put themselves forward either to at least show they still had faith in turning things around or perhaps try to put out a few fires that are now burning. Patrick Hoban did speak to the club website and his words told us what we could have probably already guessed… the side have zero faith in Alessio Abibi. The Albanian goalkeeper was at fault for Finn Harps’ opener at the end of last month and last Friday night in Tallaght Stadium definitely could have done much better for both of Rovers’ goals – particularly the second. Abibi – while deserving of some criticism – is an easy target though as, from top to bottom, every player needs to do better.
The management team also needs to work harder on the small details. A week earlier, Finn Harps stood in front of every free kick that Dundalk got to prevent them from taking a quick one. Had Dundalk done similar last weekend and not walked away from it in Chris Shields’ case, perhaps Danny Mandriou doesn’t even get the shot away for his opener. There have been other minor things that, when all added up, don’t make a lot of sense including renewed rumors of an influence in team selection from Stateside. Rumors can be just that, baseless and inaccurate, but at least if it was Giovagnoli doing the talking the question could be put to him and batted away if needs be.
Everyone knows the Italian is not in front of the cameras and microphones right now due to the lack of a Pro Licence but a failure to face the music when things are going badly on the field only leads to greater discontent off it amongst supporters.
Two years ago when things looked bleak it was a home match against Bohemians that turned it around with Patrick Hoban’s 94th minute penalty earning a victory the side scarcely deserved. It proved to be the first of a 23 match unbeaten run which included 21 wins and just two draws, both against Derry City. What seemed unlikely then needs to happen now if we’re to avoid more upheaval at the club. It might only be three games in but already supporters’ patience is wearing thin and, while that might seem premature, a lot of those views are based on form stretching back to last season and a setup off the field that is leaving a lot to be desired.
As we enter into round four of the campaign, a number of season ticket holders have yet to be sorted out and player sponsorships only began to be promoted last week. On and off the field, it’s as if the club wasn’t ready for the start of this season and as a result, the club has much to do to show it is a well-oiled machine.
Bohs was a turning point two years ago. It needs to be again come 10pm on Friday night.