AUTHOR: Kieran Burke – @Kieran_B_Sport
St.Patrick’s Athletic left it late to claim the first win of the 2021 League of Ireland season at the weekend with goals from Ronan Coughlan and an injury-time strike from Billy King enough to cancel out Dinny Corcoran’s equaliser for Drogheda at Richmond Park. With the likes of Dundalk and St.Pat’s next opponent’s Bohemians both suffering slow starts to their respective Premier Division campaigns belief is already starting to grow around Inchicore that Stephen O’Donnell’s Saints can mix it at the very top end of the table this season having served up some rather underwhelming results in 2020. With Ronan Coughlan the only established centre-forward at the club there had been question marks leading up to the new season whether or not Pats would have enough in attack to launch an assault on the European places or beyond in 2021 but with the ex-Sligo Rovers striker netting in the win over Drogs on Saturday such questions will fade into the background for the time being at least.
Speaking at a virtual press conference earlier today, Stephen O’Donnell revealed his delight upon seeing his new centre-forward getting off the mark so early into the new League of Ireland campaign. “It’s always good to see your frontman get off the mark and I like to see my frontman getting scruffy finishes like that from two or three yards out, it’s a good sign to see him (Ronan Coughlan) getting into the danger area and it will do his confidence the world of good,” said the former Dundalk FC captain.”
While there will be plenty of expectation on Coughlan to lead the Saints attack in terms of goals this season his manager did highlight the other important assets Coughlan brings to his team and why the former Cork man shouldn’t be judged on goal return alone as a result.
“There’s a lot more to Ronan’s game than just goal scoring I think anyone who’s watched him play will realise his work ethic and hold up play which brings other players into the game is massive and when the ball goes up to him it sticks his hold up play really is quality so even when Ronan doesn’t score he’s the type of striker who can still have a massive role in the game,” remarked O’Donnell.
As for the match-winner on Saturday that was Billy King who showed glimpses of his potential at times last season but a little bit like St.Pat’s as a whole in 2020 the winger never seemed to hit the heights he may have promised early on in the year. When asked if he was expecting more from King this term O’Donnell revealed a string of unfortunate events last year which he felt avoided supporters seeing the best of the Edinburgh man.
“In the first four games before lockdown he (Billy King) was one of our best players but after lockdown he came back and tore his hamstring in a friendly, so he missed the first couple of months after the restart, so he was only finding his fitness and match sharpness at the end of the season and was chasing his tail a little bit with the shortened season and having so long off and then tearing his hamstring, but he’s come back this pre-season in excellent shape, he had a little issue against Shamrock Rovers where he had a little bit of muscle fatigue so had to come off at half-time and then obviously missed the majority of that week’s training, so he came off the bench (versus Drogheda) and looked sharp and scored a very good finish I’m delighted with Billy and he’ll come on with more training and minutes under his belt” revealed O’Donnell.
This weekend past was not a vintage one for some of the newest arrivals between the sticks in the League of Ireland with Dundalk number one Alessio Abibi suffering a horror moment with the ball at his feet for Finn Harps opening goal on Friday while St.Pat’s loanee Vítězslav Jaroš was at faulty for a handling error in the lead up to Dinny Corcoran equaliser at Richmond Park. Asked how the man on loan from Liverpool had been around the camp this week since that error O’Donnell responded by praising the Czech Republic natives mentality.
“If you watched the game Saturday I think you’ll have seen how he bounced back from the mistake. His distribution was excellent, he made a save from Ronan Murray (after the mistake), he came and claimed a number of high balls into the area, his mentality and bounce back after the mistake was unbelievably impressive, so for a player that young to have a mentality like that is brilliant” said O’Donnell.
Expanding further on the positives his goalkeeper would take from such an experience O’Donnell commented: “This is the reasons clubs like Liverpool send their young players out to experience men’s football with points on the line so they can experience adversity they might not face in under-23’s football so it’s a great experience for Vítězslav.”
As highlighted earlier in the piece it’s City rivals Bohemians up next for St.Patrick’s Athletic and despite the fact Bohs allowed a two-goal half-time lead over newly-promoted Longford slip at the weekend in a disappointing 2-2 draw for the Gypsies O’Donnell is not getting carried away with early season form guides and is expecting to see a reaction from Keith Long’s side on Saturday.
“It’s going to be a tough game no matter what way the first two results went, they’re a good team with good players and they have got a massive squad so Keith has a lot of options to pick from no matter what the results in recent games” said O’Donnell who enjoyed many famous battles with the Phibsborough outfit during his playing days in the league.