Before tonight’s match, Filippo Giovagnoli’s in his programme notes spoke of expectations and realities when it comes to competing on a domestic and European front for a League of Ireland club. In reality with resources and scheduling priorities take precedent and he made a decision that Europe was the end game for the County Louth club.
“When Dundalk called me, they asked me to focus only on qualification for the Europa League group stages. That was the main objective. We did everything to achieve that, which affected our team selection, rotation and substitutions. For the club, it was the most important objective because of the millions that come with it and if people forget that we achieved this, I think they are crazy. The other objective was to qualify for Europe next year so if we win tonight we have achieved all of the targets that were set.”
Dundalk knew a win tonight would secure that all elusive third spot in the SSE Airtricity League – the final series of game of that title since the departure of sponsorship, closer to home many observers looked at tonight’s game as a means of a long goodbye. While the season still has a minimum of four games left with so many players out of contract this could be the last time for some that will donn the iconic white jersey. Coming into tonight’s game some eighteen players are currently out of a contract.
Whether the players remain at Oriel Park next year remains to be seen but one thing is for certain there will be a serious winter of change at Dundalk unless player recruitment and retention is the forefront of our minds. The players, supporters or indeed the town don’t want this golden era at the club to end up and fall into the trap of the ‘2020 club’. The lack of certainty from both the players and who will be in charge of them is leading to a lot of issues. While a contract has been muted for Filippo Giovagnoli for his reward of bringing Dundalk to the promised land of the Europa League the talk and trial have gone cold. While European performances have been applauded and admired, in particular against Molde and Rapid Vienna the domestic form has been suspect at best. Giovagnoli has opted to rest and rotate players which have led to performances in certain games fall below standard. The fixture congestion has not helped, to be honest, the price of success it seems in a truncated season that left no room for manoeuvre.
To be in this position with that all has gone on this season, in reality, is outstanding, with misfiring form post covid the loss of not one but three key members of coaching staff play the sudden and tragic loss of the cornerstone of Oriel Park Harry Taffee would have seen other clubs fall off the cliff. A testament to the players and the staff at this club to achieve what they have done is a direct reflection of their professionalism and standards that has been set by this club.
It was spoken of recently that this side is very much a ‘player-driven’ and has been for many years. Many talented players come and gone by falling at the wayside for not stepping up to the mark. Dundalk players have kept this team moving forward in extremely difficult circumstances, they should be rewarded for their efforts. For that to happen a manager – irrespective of whether it’s Filippo or someone else needs to be finalised and soon. The future of this club and its continued success depends on it.
Dundalk made six changes to the side that lost in Vienna last Thursday. The most noticeable absentee from the side was that of Michael Duffy who didn’t make the matchday squad.
Despite the bright side with Jordan Flores stinging the hands of Ed McGinty early on, if Dundalk were to qualify for Europe it was going to have to do it the hard way as after nine minutes Gary Rogers out of position was the victim to a looping effort from Jessie Devers whose shot nestled into the top left-hand corner of the net.
The reaction from the Sligo company sitting in the stand knew how big that goal was. Sligo kept the momentum and continued to push forward Coughlan found himself once again in space to shoot at the edge of the box but it was hit straight at Rogers. As things stood Dundalk held on to the third position by the virtue of a single point.
Patrick Hoban the hero to many a Dundalk tale took the game by the scruff of the neck and battled down the left and sent in a low hard cross but McGinty read the path of the ball well and cut out the attack.
Elsewhere it looked as if Ollie Horgan had done Dundalk a massive favour going ahead in Ballyboefey. The goal would cement Dundalk’s third position and move Sligo to fourth but with no means of catching the Lilywhites – another twist in the 2020 season.
Dundalk looked to get back on level terms with an excellent sweeping move by the home side down the right that saw Colovic feed the ball to Flores show shot was always rising.
Dundalk had a series of corners and it looked as if Dundalk had fashioned an equaliser when Brian Gartland a set-piece king of Oriel headed a powerful header goalwards only for the outstretched hand of McGinty to deny him on the line.
The second half reflected the tension that could be sensed around the empty ground. While Filippo Giovagnoli appealed for calm on the sideline his side was frantic in the attack in search for an equaliser. While Sean Gannon was denied what looked on first viewing a penalty moments later Sean Hoare in a forward position from the right sent in a cross picking out the unmarked David McMillan but the striker’s header was well handled by McGinty.
Dundalk continued to press but was thwarted at every turn with Sligo’s defence inspired as they blocked the path of the advancing Dundalk attack. In reality, the players look mentally exhausted at what has been a bruising and difficult year. McMillan went close with a header midway through the second half but there was no pace to it and Mc Ginty saved well.
It looked as if Daniel Cleary at the death had got the last goal of the Dundalk league season but his turn and shot were saved well by McGinty once more.
The last call of the game fell to Ronan Coughlan whose fantastic effort sealed the tie and fourth place for Sligo.
Both sides fashioned half chances but to no avail as the clock etched towards ninety. This night, if results have gone differently, could have spelt absolute and utter disaster for Dundalk. Thankfully it wasn’t and Dundalk’s season ended with wounds to lick and much to ponder.
Dundalk FC: Dundalk 1 Gary Rogers, 4 Sean Hoare, 3 Brian Gartland, 21 Daniel Cleary, 23 Cameron Dummigan (15 Darragh Leahy,), 10 Greg Sloggett, 6 Jordan Flores (8 John Mountney 74 Mins), 22 Stefan Colovic, 16 Sean Murray (2 Sean Gannon 46), 17 Nathan Oduwa, 9 Patrick Hoban (29 David McMillan 45 Mins).
Sligo Rovers: 1 Ed McGinty, 2 Lewis Banks, 26 Garry Buckley, 21 John Mahon, 3 Regan Donelon (Alex Cooper 64 Mins), 22 David Cawley, 25 Niall Morahan (Will Seamore), 11 Jesse Devers, 9 Ryan De Vries (Darragh Noone 10), 28 Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, 7 Ronan Coughlan.
Booked: Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, Sean Hoare
By Ciarán Callan