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Having spent a season in County Louth working with Drogheda United I have experienced first-hand the passion that exists in the county for football. Dundalk's success is no surprise to me. Having known Stephen Kenny since he signed for St.Pats and having had regular chats in the local shops while he was doing his day job at the time delivering meat I have seen the passion and commitment that he has for the game. This is visible on the pitch by the way his players play for him. He gets his message across to the players in simple terms he doesn’t scream and shout on the touchline.
He has built his team from scratch with players that would run through a brick wall for him because they believe in him. I seen something similar in the 80s at Pats under Brian Kerr when he took a team built from scratch to win a league title. Is this a coincidence or just that fact that Stephen listened and learned from Kerr? I have met Stephen at LSL matches looking at players and he will take a chance on a player where some wouldn’t; he signed Richie Towell from his old club Bluebell.
When Richie Towell left for Brighton the doom merchants said they would struggle but with players like Gary Rogers, Stephen O’Donnell in their squad there wasn’t a hope of that happening. These two are leaders of men and they go the extra bit in training and on the pitch players love leaders. The players play with Pride and Passion and every game is treated with the same level of professionalism.
Dundalk as a town feeds off the passion for football. During a visit to Dundalk while at Drogheda I was walking down the town centre on my way to meet a potential sponsor when a roar of 'Get out of Dundalk and get back to Drogheda' was aimed my way. I took the shout with the spirit it was meant and politely waved back. The sponsor was amazed that someone would recognise me as someone who worked for Drogheda from a packed street. When the club hit the wall, that nearly all of the leagues clubs hit, the fans rallied around the club and packed bags, washed cars, bucket collections became the norm and they still were not deflated they battled back.
The profile of the club in Ireland and Europe has never been so high and they have great partners in their sponsors and Dundalk IT. More will want to join up when they see the exposure they get but they should also remember the smaller sponsors that have been their life blood for years - the success belongs to these people as well. The board members down the years would have slogged hard to get money when they needed it. The present Chairman and board deserve great praise they have let Stephen get on with the job in hand and backed him when others doubted him.
The money that Dundalk get from the European run is money they could only dream of. They can now bring the dream of a new stadium closer. Oriel Park has been good to them but the modern fan is looking for more and I hope that the Government both local and national along with the FAI will help them towards this new stadium. A new stadium does not have to be a noose around the neck of the club a modest stadium that is capable of hosting all Europa League games will do and then as the years go by build on. The worst thing to do would be to build a stadium that becomes a noose for the next 20 years, and we have seen that happen. This will breathe life into the local economy and in turn the local economy will give that back to the club.
Good Luck, Dundalk. Just promise me two things: 1. Price your tickets so that present fans and new fans will go and see you play. 2. Don’t waste the money that you have fought hard to make.