AUTHOR: Kieran Burke – @Kieran_B_Sport
Stephen O’Donnell returns to Oriel Park this weekend not only as the coach of St.Patrick’s Athletic but as league leaders with the Saints looking to pile further misery on the Lilywhites who sit second bottom with just one point from four league games. Pats went top of the pile in the previous game week thanks to a professional 2-0 home win against an out-of-form Derry City who in truth gift-wrapped the points for the hosts by going down to ten-men early on in the first-half. When asked if there was a more clinical nature about his group of players this season Stephen O’Donnell pointed towards a growth in maturity in the dressing room at Richmond Park in the off-season.
“It’s evolution, lads that were here last year have a much better understanding of what we’re looking for and how we want to deal with games, it’s maturity as well lads that we here in their first year last year are now more comfortable about where they are at and the boys who we’ve brought in have given us a good bit of quality,” remarked the former Dundalk skipper at a virtual St.Pat’s press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
Goals from ex-Dundalk midfielder Robbie Benson and up-and-coming Saints star Darragh Burns were enough to move St.Pat’s to the top of the Premier Division with the win over Derry City but despite racking up three wins and a draw away to the defending champions on the opening night of the campaign O’Donnell feels there’s still more to come from his players this season.
“It was a good performance but there’s loads we can work on, we can still get a lot better it’s the evolution of the team, lads are more comfortable in their roles having had that little bit longer to work with them it just becomes a little bit clearer,” remarked O’Donnell.
Despite the professional manner in which St.Pat’s went about the win over Derry City there were perhaps some onlookers viewing last weekends game who felt maybe Pats would go on to win by a more impressive scoreline given the early man advantage and the generally disappointing nature of the Candystripes overall approach and performance. However, O’Donnell was quick to declare he’d take plenty more results like it over the course of the season.
“I think we are doing alright, I think we look threatening and if you gave me fifteen or twenty one-nil wins I’d be happy with that” quipped O’Donnell in response to a question over whether there was still more to come from St.Pat’s in an attacking sense this season.
In truth, such a question should be put to the majority of Premier Division managers in regards to goals with just forty-five goals scored across forty league games so far this season. Drogheda United top the goals for column with eight but exactly half of those came in the win over Longford. If St.Pat’s are to move up another gear in the coming weeks one player many eyes will turn to is Chris Forrester who has shown early glimpses this season of recapturing the sort of form that earned him a move to England in 2015. Asked about Forrester and where he feels the twenty-eight-year-old is both physically and form-wise at the moment O’Donnell revealed his delight with the ex-Peterborough and Aberdeen midfielder.
“His (Chris Forrester’s) fitness is the best it’s been since we’ve come in, he looks like an athlete. There’s no need to talk about Chris’s ability but he’s applying himself really well and he’s another real student of the game, he watches football morning, noon and night, he loves football so it’s about creating the right environment around him and challenging Chris. It’s my job and the coach’s job to try get the best out of him and when he looks back he can say I got the most out of my career. A fit Chris Forrester with that talent and applying himself is a huge asset to any team on the island” commented O’Donnell.
With O’Donnell enjoying such a strong start to the season and with a return to his former club now on the cards it’s only natural that some commentators have begun to draw up similarities to the project O’Donnell is overseeing on the banks of the Camac with the empire built up by his former boss at Dundalk and current Ireland manager Stephen Kenny during the pairs time together at Oriel Park. Asked whether he was uncomfortable around such talk O’Donnell admitted although it’s nice to be compared to Stephen Kenny he was keen to make his own mark on the game as a manager.
“If you’re getting comparisons like that it means you’re doing something right but look it’s two totally different journies, two totally different sets of circumstances, and besides you don’t replicate legacies you try and create your own and it’s up to us as a group here at St.Patrick’s Athletic to try and create our own time and our own journey” concluded O’Donnell.