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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 26 September, 2018
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Stephen Kenny praises former Liverpool youngster after 'exceptional' debut

The Dundalk boss had words of encouragement for Dubliner Daniel Cleary.

Stephen Kenny pictured at Tallaght Stadium last night.
Stephen Kenny pictured at Tallaght Stadium last night.
Image: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

Paul Fennessy reports from Tallaght Stadium

IT HAS NOT been an ideal start to the season for Dundalk.

Ahead of the 2018 campaign, most pundits were tipping the Lilywhites to challenge last year’s title winners, Cork City, for the league.

Yet with just two games played, they already find themselves four points behind the reigning champions, having registered back-to-back 0-0 draws against Bray Wanderers and, on Friday night, Shamrock Rovers.

“We had some chances but we didn’t take them,” Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny said afterwards. “Had we beaten Bray last week, that’s a really good point overall, but because we didn’t beat Bray, it means we’re only on two points.

“It’s not what we would have wanted, but it’s early days — a lot of things have gone against us in pre-season and still, we haven’t conceded a goal, which is good, but we haven’t scored one either in the two games.

“We’ve hardly had a 0-0 draw for a couple of years and we had one last season, all of a sudden we’ve had two [this season].”

Nevertheless, despite the disappointing outcome, Stephen Kenny took positives from his side’s clash at Tallaght Stadium.

From the visitors’ players involved, six — including two introduced off the bench — were brought in during the off-season: Stephen Folan, Daniel Cleary, Pat Hoban, Ronan Murray, Krisztian Adorjan and Marco Tagbajumi.

Of the individuals in question, former Liverpool youngster Daniel Cleary, whose signing was only confirmed last week, looked particularly impressive.

It was the 21-year-old’s first League of Ireland start, and he looked remarkably assured under the circumstances, with Kenny hailing the Dubliner’s performance as “exceptional”.

Yet it may have been even better had he not blasted a decent chance over from the edge of the box in the first half, after Shamrock Rovers stopper Kevin Horgan could only parry a cross into his path.

“He couldn’t have had a better debut really,” his manager said, before adding: “He should have scored, it was a great chance.”

With more established League of Ireland defenders in Sean Hoare and Brian Gartland out injured, when Kenny was asked whether they might struggle to regain their places if the current backline continue to perform so well, the coached added: “That’s a very valid point. That’s something we have to consider.”

Kenny also paid tribute to Crumlin United, the club who originally produced Cleary, along with some other notable names.

“That club hasn’t been too bad to us, [it's] where we got Richie Towell and Andy Boyle from,” he said.

“They’ve gone through the ranks there. [Cleary has] done alright, they’ve done alright. They’ve been players for us and he obviously knows them well, being a Crumlin lad himself.

“We’ve been following his progress for a few years and it looks like he’s going to be a good player for us.

“We don’t like overloading our squad with too many centre-backs, but with two getting injured, we needed [another one] quickly.”

Marco Tagbajumi Dundalk’s Marco Tagbajumi was among the recent signings to feature at Tallaght Stadium. Source: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

The 46-year-old coach also backed his misfiring attack to come good, after 180 minutes without a goal.

Pat Hoban, in his second spell with the club after joining from Mansfield Town in pre-season, missed arguably the best chance of the match, dragging the ball wide after being played through on goal by Robbie Benson.

“Pat getting injured pre-season wasn’t ideal for us, so we’ve fired him in a little bit early tonight and he did well, I thought, overall.

“We haven’t quite got it right [in the final third], but we were unlucky not to win it. We could have lost it with the long-range effort [by Brandon Miele] off the post, but we had some good passages of play and dominated the early exchanges, put on a lot of pressure, but we didn’t sustain it in the manner that we would have wanted to.

“There were some good performances. Chris Shields was really good in midfield and very positive in his passing and distribution, very sharp.”

Another new face, Marco Tagbajumi, the 29-year-old Nigeria-born forward, brought plenty of physicality to Dundalk’s attack, after replacing Hoban just after the hour mark.

“We’ve seen a lot of his footage and a lot of his games and he did very well. He’s quite an explosive player. He just needs time to settle in. He’s not played in a proper league since nearly December. He’s not had a full pre-season.

“He’s only been with his team-mates for two training sessions. He is a good player and has played in good leagues — the Cypriot league and Norwegian league.”

Kenny continued: “I thought Michael Duffy in the first half was really raiding brilliantly.

“He showed great courage, riding tackles, kept going, persevering, real flair.

“We just didn’t have enough creativity at times in that final third.

“It’s a quick turnaround, a good chance to address [the setbacks]. We’ve Limerick on Tuesday, Derry on Friday and a couple of quick-fire games to get back to winning ways.”

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Paul Fennessy

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