Perth emerges from Kenny’s long shadow

For Dundalk, nothing succeeds like succession.

Perth emerges from Kenny’s long shadow

For Dundalk, nothing succeeds like succession.

Head coach Vinny Perth celebrates at the final whistle after Dundalk claimed the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title with victory overShamrock Rovers at Oriel Park. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.
Head coach Vinny Perth celebrates at the final whistle after Dundalk claimed the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title with victory overShamrock Rovers at Oriel Park. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.

When Vinny Perth stepped up to take over from Stephen Kenny at the start of the season, there were inevitable questions about whether the transition could prove seamless, doubts which were hardly allayed by the team’s tentative start which, at one point, saw Shamrock Rovers 13 points clear at the top of the Premier Division, albeit with a couple of games in hand.

But Monday night at Oriel Park confirmed the wheel had spun full circle over the course of the campaign, as an entertaining 3-2 victory for the home side against their nearest rivals sealed back-to-back titles for the defending champions and left the Hoops 15 points in their wake with four games remaining.

And with King Kenny looking on from the stands, it was a night of vindication for his former assistant Vinny Perth as he fully came into his own as a league-winning manager.

“It was an amazing night for me personally,” the head coach says.

“I know the history of this league well. People like Pat Fenlon, Stephen Kenny, Jim McLaughlin, Pat Dolan they’ve all won leagues and you sort of join that list which is a massive honour for me. I’ll take that for what it is but I am reluctant to forget the other six years that I have been here. I’ve been a soldier here.

I mean, you look at (assistant coach) Ruaidhri Higgins, nobody even mentions him, but he is the one on a Monday morning who comes in and sets the tone for training for the week. I was the one doing that for six or seven years and that’s why I am respectful of the other people who have achieved a lot of this success.

And, of course, even with the League and League Cup already in the bag, there’s potential for still more glory for Dundalk before the season is out, with an FAI Cup semi-final against Sligo Rovers on Sunday representing what could prove to be the penultimate step in replicating the historic domestic treble achieved by Jim McLaughlin’s Derry City in 1989.

“Look, I think we have to challenge ourselves,” says Perth.

"This group have the opportunity now to achieve something that has only ever been done once before by a very famous club, a very famous manager and a very famous bunch of players. We have been conscious of that from the start.

“We spoke about the treble in pre-season, we really did. So we set high bars here but at the same time if all we had ended up with is that one league title then we would have achieved the goal that was set for us by the club and the owners.”

And, offering the view from the boardroom, Dundalk chairman Mike Treacy is only too happy to pay tribute to Perth, his staff and players.

“I don’t know how to sum it up, this year is so emotional for us,” he says.

“Last November we lost a legend but Vinny and the players stepped up right away and I knew that we would be here today. We never doubted ourselves, everyone stuck together and just look at what this team has done in the last few months. I’m just so proud of Vinny and so proud of these guys.

“And we still have a treble to play for. This would be one of the greatest accomplishments in domestic football history.

"I know that it was done 30 years ago but the amount of matches that we have played and the amount of time that we spent on the road travelling away, it would be incredible if we could accomplish it.

"But we will keep our focus on Sunday and hopefully play Bohemians or Shamrock Rovers in The Aviva.”

For Rovers, the quest to end their protracted FAI Cup drought now assumes season-defining importance, with manager Stephen Bradley not shy about acknowledging that Dundalk - currently on a staggering run of 29 games unbeaten in all domestic competitions - fully deserve to be the champions of 2019.

“We didn’t lose it on Monday and Dundalk didn’t win it on Monday,” he says.

They’ve won it over the course of the season and, to be fair to them, the best team wins the league. And they’ve been the best team this year.

"We’ve got to learn from that. In the big games throughout the season, small margins cost us, and we’ve got to learn from that for next year.

“Right until the middle part of the season we were on a great run and we’ve had great runs throughout the season. But to be fair to them, they had to go and win games and they’ve done that. That’s why the league is the hardest thing to win. It goes to the most consistent team over the whole season and they’ve been that.”

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