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'It was a sad day' - Dundalk star wishes Kenny 'all the best' while backing Perth to take over

Patrick McEleney has picked up the final Player of the Month award for 2018 after ending the season on a high.

McEleney and Kenny share a hug.
McEleney and Kenny share a hug.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

PATRICK MCELENEY WAS TODAY named SSE Airtricity League/Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland Player of the Month for October/November thanks to his FAI Cup final heroics. 

The Dundalk attacker, one of the most technically gifted players in Irish football, scored a rare header to hand the Lilywhites a 2-1 victory over rivals Cork City at the Aviva Stadium earlier this month. 

“It was brilliant,” said the 26-year-old said, who saw off team-mate Sean Gannon and Cork’s Conor McCarthy to claim the prize.

“The thing you’re dreaming about before the final is scoring the winner and just trying to contribute as much as you can to the team. So it was a magic end to the season.

“It’s always nice to get wee awards and to get recognised, although I think it was more to do with the goal than anything else! I’m well happy about it though.”

Winning a league and cup double was the highlight of a year that saw McEleney experience much frustration. 

After tearing it up in the League of Ireland, the Derry native agreed to leave Dundalk for League One club Oldham Athletic last December. Things didn’t go to plan in England, however, and he was back at Oriel Park six months later. 

It was a tough year, to be honest, and Oldham was a nightmare from the start,” he explains. “I knew coming back to Dundalk the boys were doing well and I always backed myself and believed I could contribute.

“I’ve scored a few goals — the winner in the FAI Cup semi-final and in the final — and I’ve just been trying to help them as much as I can because it’s an amazing team with loads of big characters. I just wanted to do well for everybody.”

Having transformed Dundalk’s fortunes over the past six years, Stephen Kenny has this week left his position to take up a role with the FAI — initially as Ireland U21s manager before taking over the senior team after Euro 2020. 

SSE Airtricity/SWAI Player of the Month October McEleney with his trophy. Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

The squad learned of his departure while attending captain Stephen O’Donnell’s wedding over the weekend. 

“It was a sad day,” says McEleney. “His exit was being reported but you just didn’t know what was going to happen. Speaking on behalf of the boys, we’re delighted for him and he deserves a chance at the international job.

“He will obviously be missed but we’ve still got our own jobs to do and we need to take care of that.

“We were at Stevie’s wedding and I do think it was a good thing that we were all together when it happened because we could sit down and speak about it before moving on.

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“We wish him all the best because he has been brilliant for me personally and for the club, so we want him to do well.

“I think he spoke briefly to some players and it’s going to be hectic now for himself and his family,” he adds. “I’m sure we’ll all get a proper chat with him over time, but he’s probably flat out at the minute.”

Former U19 international McEleney is of the opinion that his old manager possesses all the attributes to succeed at international level.

“He loves talented and attacking players so the young lads will thrive under him in that underage set-up. He fills you with loads of confidence and they will need that going into the next stages of their careers.

“It’s going to be exciting times to see how he does and when he does get the first-team job they will be looking forward to having him. James McClean played under him at Derry City and he will be able to speak highly of him.”

Having signed a three-and-a-half year deal last summer, McEleney is now looking ahead to the post-Kenny era at Dundalk — both domestically and in Europe. 

It’s a new challenge for us,” he says. “It’s an exciting time for the league, it’ll be new and we’re going to back ourselves as players to kick on again because we’ve said before about succeeding in Europe and that target isn’t going to change.

“I’ve three years on my contract and I won’t be going anywhere. My family has settled there and I’ll do everything I can for the team. Speaking to the boys, everybody is going to stay so we’ll be doing everything we can to win the league and everything else again.”

Stephen Kenny and Vinny Perth celebrate with The Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup Perth and Kenny with the FAI Cup. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Dundalk must now find a replacement with current assistant manager Vinny Perth, ex-Ireland boss Steve Staunton and former Shelbourne defender Mick Neville have all been mentioned as potential candidates. 

“Vinny has been there from the start and he has been brilliant with me personally,” McEleney says of Kenny’s long-serving number two, who hasn’t yet acquired his Uefa pro licence.

“He has been very good with everybody. I’m not sure what’s going on and the board would know a lot more than us, but whatever happens happens in the next few days.

“We have to look at the positive side of it and it’s going to be exciting as a new challenge.”

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