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'There were a lot of problems last year and now it's completely different'

Dundalk’s Daniel Kelly reflects on a new spirit at Oriel Park after collecting the SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers Ireland player of the month award for May.

Daniel Kelly receiving his award at Oriel Park.
Daniel Kelly receiving his award at Oriel Park.
Image: Ben McShane/SPORTSFILE

AFTER A GOOD month’s work, one which would secure him this SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers Ireland award for May, Daniel Kelly headed to Dublin airport for a trip to Croatia with his partner and some friends.

“Half the league were there that morning. We were there for two hours getting through security and just made the flight,” Dundalk’s flying winger says.

“I saw Mickey Duffy and a few of the lads going to Santa Ponsa. A few of the Derry lads. Then Wardy (Keith Ward).

“We were able to switch off and relax. Apart from our suitcases getting lost on the first day. Thankfully we went with another couple so I was able to get a lend of jocks off him one of the days,” Kelly laughs.

It was a mid-season break he was able to enjoy a lot more than the end to last season.

With the club in a state of flux and a change in ownership required to bring it back on an even keel, Kelly, like most of his teammates, felt it was the end of an era at Oriel Park.

“A lot of us didn’t know where we stood. The last few months especially, when our contracts ran out. Personally I didn’t know if I was going to be there.

All the lads would say the same. Now a lot of stuff off the pitch seems to be fixed. It makes it easier for us on the pitch because it’s hard hearing so many things in the background.

“There were a lot of problems last year and it’s gone completely the opposite way this season. Stevie has been brilliant and it’s a really brilliant dressing room.”

Source: SSE Airtricity/YouTube

‘Stevie’ is new manager Stephen O’Donnell, who joined from St Patrick’s Athletic in the week after lifting the FAI Cup, having guided the Saints to second in the Premier Division.

The players at Richmond Park spoke of his ability to be able to provide a renewed focus and edge to a club that had been struggling. Dundalk, who finished 30 points behind champions Shamrock Rovers last season, were in dire need of a similar resurgence.

It’s happening.

Last month, Kelly’s winning goals against Bohemians and Finn Harps, as well as assists in games against Bohs and UCD, helped the Lilywhites to second place.

They are eight points adrift of the champions, who they welcome to Oriel Park tomorrow, and victory would cut the deficit to five. Allied with a game in hand for the Louth side and it’s conceivable that they could be just two points off the pace setters.

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It’s the speed of progress that has caught everyone by surprise.

daniel-kelly-celebrates-with-the-fans-after-scoring-his-sides-1st-goal-of-the-game Daniel Kelly celebrates with Dundalk fans. Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

“Yeah, I thought it would take a bit of time because of the turnover in players, the management staff changed, there were a lot of changes,” Kelly continued. As the gaffer said, it’s only half way and we’re in a good position at the moment.

“It’s a hard one. We were playing so well and were top of the table with our results in the last seven games. You don’t really want to stop, but it’s a hard one because you need to recharge.

“There are lads coming back from injury. You won’t want to be on the go too much. We were able to work on a lot of stuff on the training ground and overall it’s a good thing.

You want to keep the momentum going and hopefully we will against Rovers. Any time we play Rovers, no matter where we are in the table, it’s a good game. We’ve done well in Oriel this year so see where it takes us.”

It should at least take the club back into European action, and a long way from lost jocks in Croatia.

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