When Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk were crowned Premier Division champions last Friday one wonders did he think it would have been eleven years on from when he managed the same feat as Bohemians boss.
2003 will now be a distant, and possibly bittersweet memory for the Dundalk boss, considering just how long he has had to wait to get his hands on Irish football’s biggest prize once again.
Bohemians were, and still are, if truth be told a club which expects success. Back in the final season of winter football Stephen Kenny set about replicating the feat Roddy Collins had managed by claiming the league and FAI Cup double for the Northside club.
Kenny managed to do half of that job and brought Bohemians their second league title in just three years and their ninth in the history of the club with 54 points in their 2002/03 campaign.
Fast forward 11 years and Stephen Kenny has finally added to his only previous Premier Division title. In the intervening years his spells at Derry City, either side of a year of Dunfermline, were fruitful on occasion and Kenny’s time at Derry was probably worthy of more trophies had the league not been so competitive at the time.
Kenny joined Derry in 2004 and began management of a team battling at the wrong end of the table midway through the season following his departure from Bohemians.
Similar to what Kenny has done at Dundalk, he reignited a club which had just finished in the bottom half of the table the previous season, to becoming a title challenging side in their next campaign. In 2005 Derry brought the league down to the last day of the season against Cork City on this occasion also, but he was on the other end of a 2-0 defeat that night in Turner’s Cross.
Derry fought back again in 2006 but were denied by Pat Fenlon’s Shelbourne, this time agonisingly on goal difference alone.
Kenny and Derry did have some degree of success when they won the League Cup in 2005 and the FAI & League Cup double in 2006 but the league title eluded him throughout this period.
A year in Scotland with Dunfermline followed but Kenny made his way back to City in time for the 2008 season. Two years of finishing just off the pace followed but Derry did find success once again in the League Cup in 2008.
Issues off the field meant that Derry were to play one season in the First Division, which Kenny’s side won on their first attempt. Another League Cup success was to come to Kenny in 2011 but still no league title for the Dubliner.
What looked like a golden opportunity to reclaim the holy grail of Irish football presented itself when Kenny was appointed successor to Michael O’Neill at Shamrock Rovers. O’Neill had guided the Tallaght club to two consecutive league titles, the Setanta Cup and a Europa League group stage debut.
His first term in 2012 didn’t go as planned with Kenny leaving Tallaght before the season’s end following a below par showing in the league and Europe. Question marks surrounded Kenny’s ability to win another league title following his departure from the Dublin club.
Joining up with Dundalk at the beginning of the 2013 season presented a fresh opportunity for the 42-year-old. In his first season he grasped this with both hands by finishing in second place with a team who had technically finished bottom of the table following Monaghan’s departure from the league the previous season.
Just three points separated St Patrick’s Athletic and Dundalk at the end of 2013 in what was an amazing turnaround helped by a manager with a point to prove following the disappointments of his time at Shamrock Rovers.
2014 saw Kenny end his eleven year heartbreaking wait for the Premier Division title. Following a final day defeat to Cork City in the past, the 42-year-old learned his lesson and Dundalk got over the line on the last day of the season.
Kenny’s lucky touch in the League Cup rounded off a sensational season for the Lilywhites, which sees them face Champions League opposition next year.
Kenny has well and truly proved doubters wrong that he may never manage a team to the league title again following so many close shaves in the past. However, this season there looked to be no stopping Stephen Kenny and his team and he now has slightly less pressure, on a personal level if anything else, going into next season.
Dundalk will now be the team to beat but with the pressure of an eleven year gap now lifted from Kenny’s shoulders ahead of next season, one must think every title challenger should be wary of the possibiltiy of a second year of Dundalk dominance next season.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena