“Here we go four-in-a-row,” uttered a delighted Dundalk fan as the masses of Louth men and women departed Oriel Park after watching Stephen O’Donnell collect the SSE Airtricity League trophy for the third time since 2014.
Wishful thinking. Confidence. Arrogance.
Call it what you will but one thing that you cannot deny is the fact that Dundalk have finished seven-points ahead of their nearest challengers, Cork City.
They once more reign supreme, looking down at all the others from their Oriel perch with a handsome look of pleasure etched on their faces.
It’s amazing what a bit of success can do. The town is kitted out in checkered flags to support their beloved local heroes, although anyone oblivious to the football club’s success would think that Bernie Ecclestone had paid a visit recently!
For the third home game running Oriel Park was packed with more than 3,500 people.
The average league gate at the Carrick Road venue in 2016 is 2,738. This is 322 people more than the average was at the end of September, illustrating how the crowds have swelled as Stephen Kenny’s men closed on the championship.
When O’Donnell did eventually lift the silverware on the night there was elation of course. An unquenchable tide of black and white poured onto the field from the terraces upon Dundalk’s fourth goal of the night, right on full-time.
There was a party atmosphere around the ground all evening with the crowd in early. It was a special occasion and everyone knew it but was it as special as the chilly October night of two seasons ago or the evening spent at Tallaght Stadium 12 months earlier?
The truth is that along with the pride, adoration and disbelief felt by all Lilywhite patrons, an air of complacency and invincibility has pervaded the psyche of Dundalk fans too.
I know that I say this having been present when more than 900 Dundalk fans made the most of the trip to Alkmaar in the Europa League recently. I understand that veteran soccer supporters in the town don’t feel complacent having watched more bad times than good over the years.
After all, the exhausted reference to the club’s predicament in 2012 doesn’t lend itself to becoming complacent, there is always a bad patch on the horizon in the minds of Dundalk supporters, it’s what they have been accustomed to.
The facts tell a slightly different story though. When you have somebody exiting the ground on a night where, fresh in their minds, Dundalk lifted the league title already professing ‘four-in-a-row’ then there is certainly a complacent vane setting in.
Football is fickle. You have your seasonal supporter out in Oriel Park last evening, there to enjoy the title festivities and to be able to say that “I was there.”
Those types of supporters are needed but they also bring an air of complacency to the place, they are the ones who get the most disgruntled on the nights where things don’t quite fall into place, like the 3-0 loss to Sligo Rovers three-weeks ago.
Several articles have been posted in recent weeks about this Dundalk team being the best League of Ireland team in the history of our domestic football. You have a pundit in Eamonn Dunphy coming out and posing the question as to why Stephen Kenny isn’t the Irish manager and why the national side don’t adopt ‘the Dundalk way’ of playing.
All welcome plaudits and exposure for the league when it needs it most. However, these things don’t come easily, funding is required to maintain a club on such a pedestal with gate receipts vital to this.
The simple fact is that Dundalk are a better team and playing much more attractive football now than they have in the previous seasons under the Kenny regime. The proof being how they have played in Europe, that’s some football.
Gate receipts in Oriel Park have fallen this season though when, in theory, they should be growing. There is the demand for a re-developed stadium, better facilities and perennial success. Why?
If people are not going to watch the team week-in-week-out then there isn’t much point, is there?
The average league crowd in Dundalk last season was 3,157. 12 out of their 17 home games saw more than 3,000 pile into Oriel to watch Towell, Horgan and McMillan strut their stuff.
This year has been the club’s most memorable yet. In the league, cup and Europe – Dundalk have done the business. Their 2016 campaign could well stretch to next May, although that may be slightly wishful thinking!
The turnstiles should be bulging with people desperate to get a glimpse of the Lilywhites, they haven’t been though.
On a mere five occasions, Oriel Park has witnessed 3,000 or more in the ground over 16 league games. Between March 18th and October 11th no league game on the Carrick Road saw more than 2,683 in attendance.
So I refer you back to the nights in 2014 and 2015 when Dundalk captured the league titles. Those nights were about an out-pouring of raw emotion. They were nights for die-hards to encapsulate and put into a bottle to reminisce about when the “inevitable bad times return” one local told me.
Last Friday night was good, as Michael Duffy said: “It’s champagne football.” However, it wasn’t ‘just as good’ as the others because, to many in the ground, it’s what they now expect unfortunately.
They don’t cherish these occasions as much as those who have black and white gushing through their veins. They’re already planning next year’s celebrations. Complacency is a terrible thing.
As Emily Dickinson said: “Live in the moment.” I believe it goes by, “here we go three-in-a-row.”