Dundalk head coach Stephen O'Donnell before the Extra.ie FAI Cup Quarter-Final match between Waterford and Dundalk at the RSC in Waterford. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile
A few home truths were likely proclaimed in the Dundalk FC dressing room following Friday night’s 3-2 Extra.ie FAI Cup quarter-final defeat against Waterford at The RSC.
The Lilywhites looked good value to reach the semi-finals for what would have been the eighth season in a row after Paul Doyle had put them 1-0 ahead in the early stages.
Shane Griffin equalised for Waterford just past the half-hour mark before Darragh Power made it 2-1 prior to the interval, while Phoenix Patterson’s wondergoal on 65 minutes ensured The Blues would be in the last four for the second year running.
Dundalk were offered a lifeline three minutes into stoppage-time through substitute Keith Ward, but it was too little, too late for the 12-time winners, who were kept in the away dressing room for about one hour afterwards by head coach Stephen O’Donnell.
“I’m not ever going disclose anything that happens in the dressing room,” he told waiting members of the local media. “There has to be a sacred place, a safe haven where just internally, everyone gets together and shares views. I’ll never divulge any information on that.
“When you get beaten in the cup quarter-final by a First Division team, you don’t come into the dressing room and then hop on the bus and go up the road.
“There has to be discontent. There has to be a little bit of a review. There has to be them type of things. That’s the culture we want to generate in regards expectation.
“We have to embrace it because we’re at a serious club, a big club. We want to grab the opportunity with both hands, everybody.
“When nights like tonight happen, and nights like last week happen, there has to be a little bit of internal for any successful team. Any successful club is going to have that. There was nothing untoward, or nothing outrageous in the dressing room, but there has to be a post-mortem.”
That upset in Waterford provided the latest bombshell in what has been a challenging spell for O’Donnell’s side, who also lost 3-2 at struggling UCD just one week beforehand.
Consequently, that latest SSE Airtricity League defeat gave fourth-place St Patrick’s Athletic a boost in the race for guaranteed Europa Conference League qualification.
St Pats are just a point behind The Lilywhites and could overleap them if they are to win their game in hand against Shelbourne, originally scheduled to be played last month.
Although out of the FAI Cup, the showpiece at the Aviva Stadium on November 13th could yet prove to be a significant date for Dundalk, for if they were to finish fourth, they would then be depending on Derry City winning that final in order to qualify for Europe.
With six fixtures remaining, four of which are to be played at home, O’Donnell feels Dundalk’s fate is very much in their own hands but accepts that improvement is needed.
“We’re just fragile at the minute and there’s no getting away with that. From a mentality standpoint, we seem to be giving up. We seem to be owning games, and then we’re giving up really cheap goals, with the opposition not having to do much.
“There is definitely a bit of vulnerability there, a bit of doubt, and we just need to eradicate that. We need to go back to being assertive, irrespective of who’s injured, who’s in, who’s out.
“When we’re all involved in Dundalk, you take that on your shoulders because there’s a bit of expectation. You go and ride with it and you realise that to be involved at the club, you got to own that sort of expectation. If you are hit with a bit of a sucker punch, you react well to it.
“Everything I say here, I include myself in it. It isn’t a case of, I’m talking about the players, I’m talking about all of us involved as a group. That’s what I was saying to them afterwards.
“As a whole group, we can’t be giving up the goals we’re giving. We can’t be going into leads and giving them up and ending up on the wrong side of games.”
Dundalk are not in action this weekend as a result of the international break, with their next encounter against Louth neighbours Drogheda United at home on Friday week.
“The break mightn’t be a bad thing next week. As we said to the lads, what are we about now for the last six games in the league?
“There’s still loads and loads to play for, so what’s our reaction like? What are we about? What are we about as individuals? What are we like collectively? Where are we at in regards substance?
“We’ll find out, but it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to. I said at the start of the season that there was going to be bumps in the way.
“Our trajectory was very good second and third quarter. There’s no denying it’s dipped really disappointingly.
“This is our adversity.”
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