11 games into his reign, Stephen O'Donnell confident Dundalk moving in the right direction

The manager saw his side lose 1-0 to Shamrock Rovers on Monday night.

Stephen O'Donnell (file pic).
Stephen O'Donnell (file pic).
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

WHEN STEPHEN O’DONNELL took charge of Dundalk in the off-season, he faced the unenviable task of rebuilding a side in transition.

The club won five titles in six years between 2014 and 2019 but have suffered a dramatic decline since then, as emphasised by last season’s disappointing sixth-place finish, ending up just six points ahead of relegated Waterford.

A number of experienced stars have departed in recent seasons and so the significant player turnover has been partially responsible for their inconsistent form.

While they were well-organised and frustrated Shamrock Rovers for long spells on Monday, they still look some way off a team capable of recapturing past glories.

A number of players that featured at Tallaght had limited League of Ireland experience and the visitors were further hamstrung by injuries to Robbie Benson and Dan Williams ahead of the game.

For the most part, Rovers dominated possession and territory, with Dundalk content to sit back as they attempted to frustrate the reigning champions.

“From a work-rate standpoint and an effort standpoint, I was delighted with it,” O’Donnell said afterwards. “At times, we did play through them and we made the right pass selection and we looked very dangerous. I felt we had the two best chances of the first half. We limited them to few clear-cut opportunities, first half they had strikes outside the box. They’re always going to have a fair bit of possession with the footballers that they have.

“Second half, I would have liked more of a goal threat from our point of view — really backing ourselves to go and play and drag them around the pitch. I didn’t feel with did that but I don’t think they created much at all before the goal went in.

“I thought we were quite comfortable in the game, probably not having as much possession as I would have liked. But the goal went in and it sort of came out of nothing. They’ve quality, the ball dropped to Jack Byrne middle of the park, his weight of pass was very good, [Danny] Mandroiu ran from deep and slotted it home.

“And then you’re hoping for that seven or eight minutes, you throw the kitchen sink at it, Brian [Gartland] gets sent off, which ties our hands a little bit. We still went for it and had half a chance at the end when the ball dropped to Stevie [Bradley].”

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The defeat leaves Dundalk in fifth place, nine points behind table-toppers Derry.

O’Donnell is satisfied that the team has improved since he took the helm and feels they have the potential to get better.

“Friday was probably our best performance of the season against Sligo and I thought in patches tonight we showed good composure and other times, our pass selection and confidence to really back yourself, you’re playing for Dundalk and you know what we’ve achieved over the previous decade, you’re here because you’re a good player. That will come, a lot of players are playing their senior football this season and others  coming from teams that not as much is expected [of them]. That takes adjusting but I think they’re really finding their feet. I thought there were a lot of positives tonight in individuals growing but we know there is still a bit of growing to come.

“We were coming up against a team of men there from a physical point of view too, they’re the biggest team in the league from a manly point of view of duels in that body to body. So for our lads, it’s a good little eye-opener as well of the level we need to get to and want to get to, and the level we will get to.”

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Paul Fennessy

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