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'Patrick has to work harder than other players at his fitness. He wasn’t born a natural athlete'

Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny is hoping his star man can put a run of games together for the business end of the season.

Patrick McEleney.
Patrick McEleney.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

THERE IS NO doubting that Patrick McEleney is one of the finest players in the League of Ireland right now.

The 24-year-old has lit up games at times with his frightening ability and invention on the ball — at Dundalk over the past two seasons and, prior to that, with his native Derry City.

Out of contract with the Lilywhites at the end of the year, attacking midfielder McEleney has been tipped to follow the likes of Richie Towell, Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle as the latest player to leave the Louth club for England.

While the Dundalk boss would surely love to keep him beyond the current campaign, his hope in the short-term is that McEleney can stay injury-free for the tail-end of the season.

Cork City may be on the verge of wrestling the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division from their title rivals after Dundalk’s three-in-a-row, but there’s still silverware up for grabs as they meet Shamrock Rovers in the EA Sports Cup final on Saturday before facing the Hoops in the last four of the FAI Cup on 1 October.

“Hopefully he can finish the season well,” Kenny said of McEleney yesterday. “The thing about Horgan and Towell was at the end of the season they had played 33 games. They never missed a game — never missed a training session.

“That’s what I had for a few years. They were so durable, Towell and Horgan. Patrick’s not as durable. He has had issues with groins and hamstrings in the past and he has to work hard to stay fit.

“He’s not a natural athlete, like say Boyle, Towell or John Mountney, who could be out for six weeks, come back and still run all day.

Patrick has to work harder than other players at his fitness. He wasn’t born with that sort of natural athleticism. What he was born with was incredible talent.

“He has shown a very good attitude and he has had a bit of a run without getting injured, although he has had problems this season. Hopefully he can stay fit between now and the end of the season.

“The key is that he gets a run of games and stays fit, because when you see him play at his best he is quite unique.”

Stephen Kenny with Stephen Bradley Kenny and Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley with the EA Sports Cup yesterday. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Kenny has had to deal with his star names departing after each of the last three seasons, and although he accepts something similar could happen this year, the Dundalk boss says leaving one of the most successful teams in League of Ireland history should not be an easy decision.

“I can’t be certain [that players will go],” Kenny added. “I couldn’t answer that question with any real certainty, to be honest. There was a time when you dealt with players and got a feel for them. Now a lot go through third parties and there has been an influx of new agents in the last year or two. A huge influx at all levels of the game — from 13 or 14 right through.

“There are a lot of new agents who are keen to get players away so that’s all part of the challenge. I think if they come to play for us, play well every week and play to their full potential, they’re not scraping around getting moves at the bottom of League Two.

They’re getting good moves if they come here and show that they’re good enough. It’s a great journey to play in Europe for Dundalk, to challenge for league titles and to be part of that winning trophies.

“You would want to have something special to leave Dundalk at the minute. We’re going to be consistently challenging for trophies over the next few years and we want to get better in Europe, so players shouldn’t want to miss out on that.”

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