DUNDALK coach, John Gill believes Derry City is a ‘transformed’ team under Declan Devine and a throwback to the quality Candy Stripes teams of yesteryear.
Gill was thrilled to get past what he felt was the toughest possible FAI Cup second round draw and keep alive Dundalk’s hopes of retaining the trophy but he claimed Derry deserved huge credit for producing yet another ‘colossal battle’ against the Co. Louth men.
"It was a great cup tie, it ebbed and flowed," said Gill. "We’ve had colossal battles against Derry all season. Declan (Devine) and his staff, full credit to them and the players, they really did put it up to us.
"They are a transformed team with a great crowd behind them," he added. "When the draw was made we felt it was the hardest draw we could get because of the way they’ve finished games against us in the previous two games. They’ve come on very, very strong. They’re a credit to their staff and a credit to the city.
"It’s like looking at an old Derry team again. Playing with passion and pride but also a lot of skill and quality. They’re a new team evolving and that team is only going to get better."
For all off Dundalk’s quality, they were fortunate not to be taken to penalties and came so close to losing the match in normal time when Ciaron Harkin’s effort crashed off the crossbar late on.
It was a thrilling cup tie and Gill agreed the cup holders had rode their luck at times.
"To come to the Brandywell it’s always a difficult place to come. I thought we showed great character. We started very well and I thought we were in control and then Derry, in fairness to them, they got a superb equaliser and took control of the game for a long period of the game.
"It had everything you would want a cup tie to have. We were lucky enough to come out on top. We were probably lucky enough to have the elements in the second half of extra-time which meant we had a breeze behind us.
"It was a quality goal as Georgie Kelly again pops up, a local lad and he’s done it for us all season. He’s a credit to himself because it’s been difficult for him. But we know what he’s capable of."
The Dundalk players were allowing themselves to contemplate matching Derry City’s ‘89 treble winners before their second round tie and now the league leaders have seen past the Candy Stripes at Brandywell and booked their last 16 spot along with an EA Sports Cup Final clash against Derry, Gill agrees they are entitled to dream. However, he’s keen to keep the players grounded.
"We thought this was the most difficult tie we could’ve got. The treble, players are speaking about it and rightly so. Players should have dreams and aspirations but I can honestly say the staff aren’t thinking about it. We’ve got to focus on the next game. That’s what we’ve got to get through to the players which is difficult. We will try and quell it down until we get nearer the equation."
Derry can still stop Dundalk’s treble bid when they meet in that EA Sports Cup Final at Brandywell on September 14th next. And Gill reckons if the decider is half as good as Friday night’s cup tie, fans are in for a special treat.
"We have another arduous trip up here in two week’s time for a cup final and if it’s half as good as the game tonight we will have the ground absolutely packed."
The Dundalk coach, isn’t, however, a fan of the late kick-off slot allocated due to the television coverage.
"The timing of it, the kick-off time, is going to stop a lot of our fans coming up. I need to be careful what I say but I think everyone would agree this final has never been played at this time before.
"We have no problem coming up here because it’s a great stadium to come to. It’s just the kick-off time will maybe stop a lot of young kids coming up from Dundalk. "If it had of been at a normal time I think we would see an absolutely packed Brandywell. Hopefully we have anyway because the two sets of players are a credit to themselves and they’ve served up three or four absolutely unbelievable games this year.
"The contests have been really good and I think if you come here on September 14th you’re going to be served up a really good quality game of football,". he predicted.