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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 24 November 2020
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'The club was on its knees and nobody shed a tear - now we're back-to-back champions'

Dundalk secured back-to-back titles in Tallaght last night.

There were joyous scenes at full-time.
There were joyous scenes at full-time.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

YOU ONLY HAD to look at the away section in Tallaght Stadium on Friday evening to appreciate the significance of the occasion to Dundalk – both as a club and town.

The celebrations which followed the final whistle told their own story as Stephen Kenny’s side secured a second successive league title after a 1-1 draw with Shamrock Rovers.

It’s the first time the Lilywhites have achieved such a feat and the 800-strong contingent of travelling fans tucked away in the corner savoured every last moment.

There were even tears when confirmation of Cork City’s slip-up in Drogheda filtered through. The magnitude of the achievement was not lost, particularly among those who have been on this journey from the start.

Three years ago, Dundalk were dangling perilously close to the edge and did just enough to retain their Premier Division status after a relegation/promotion play-off.

Since then, the club have enjoyed a remarkable turn around in fortune and Kenny has been central to it.

“It has been a tremendous effort by the players,” he said afterwards. “It wasn’t our best performance by any stretch of the imagination but it’s over the course of a whole season and we were utterly dominant.

Dundalk players celebrate Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“We only lost one game and the players have been just relentless in their efforts and we won’t let up in any of the remaining league games and we’ll absolutely try and win every game.

“It’s great for the club,” the Dundalk manager continued. “It was on its knees for seven years in the First Division and had they been relegated in the play-off in 2012, nobody would have really shed any tears but now the club are back-to-back champions, back in the Champions League qualifiers and it’s great testament to everybody involved.”

Richie Towell’s late penalty cancelled out Danny North’s opener for Rovers and the result, coupled with Cork’s 1-1 stalemate with Drogheda, means Dundalk’s lead is now unassailable.

It’s a far cry from the manner in which they lifted the trophy twelve months ago – but that doesn’t take anything away from the achievement.

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“It’s a tough competition,” Kenny added. “Last year was quite dramatic but to win it with three games to spare and it’s rare enough and we’ll take it. It’s a different way of winning it.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet. Even when we scored, we didn’t know what to do. I just said go for it, go win the game but the draw in the end was the right result for us.”

Perhaps the most telling moment of the evening came when, long after the ground had emptied, Pat Fenlon, the Shamrock Rovers manager, came out to congratulate his counterpart.

It was a sweet moment for Kenny as he returned to Dublin 24 to seal the title three years after he was sacked by Rovers after a short, but turbulent, period in charge.

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny is thrown in the air by his players after they captured the league title Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“That was a period for me that I was very disappointed with,” he said of his time at Rovers. “The way it finished, it was very unnecessary but I had to roll up my sleeves.”

Captain Stephen O’Donnell has experienced a similar revival.

The midfielder missed most of last season through injury as his career threatened to be cut short but he’s returned stronger and under the tutelage of Kenny, has spearheaded the success.

“It was our goal at the start of the season, to go back-to-back and we’ve achieved it,” he said as the celebrations started. “I couldn’t believe it at the league launch when everyone went for Cork and Rovers to win the league.

“We are a young side and were only going to get better. We were never going to be happy just winning the league last season. I know we’re celebrating but the key is to kick on again.

“It’s Roy of the rovers stuff. How this squad has been assembled, where we’ve all come from and what we’ve gone onto achieve. You could right a book or movie about it.”

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Ryan Bailey

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