PATRICK McELENEY reckons Dundalk can’t afford to underestimate his former club, Derry City when the teams clash in the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup first round next month.
The Candy Stripes were handed a daunting trip to Oriel Park in last Friday’s FAI Cup draw - a repeat of last season’s semi-final where Dundalk progressed 2-1 after a replay at Brandywell.
In the first semi-final clash in Dundalk, City bounced back from a 2-0 deficit to clinch a draw in what McEleney describes as the best performance from an opposing team at the Co. Louth venue during his time.
With Cork City running away with the League title and the Lilywhites’ Europa League campaign over after defeat to Rosenborg, McEleney is expecting the league champions to do everything in their power to progress to this season’s showpiece at the Aviva Stadium.
When asked about the first round draw after the 1-0 win over Bohemians last Friday night, Derry City boss, Kenny Shiels felt it was just his side’s luck to get handed the toughest draw of them all.
“It’s been one of those seasons where we got the hardest draw in the whole of Europe and so we’re well used to that. We’ve got the most difficult draw now in the FAI Cup. You have to say, with Cork losing two of their best players this is the hardest draw, away to Dundalk. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
It’s going to be a tough draw for us too, make no mistake about it. They came to Oriel Park the last time and I think they’ve been the best footballing team that’s played at our place.Patrick McEleney
However, McEleney, who was crowned SSE Airtricity ‘Player of the Month’ for June after a string of fine displays, believes it will be just as tough for Stephen Kenny’s men.
“It’s going to be a tough draw for us too, make no mistake about it,” said McEleney. “They came to Oriel Park the last time and I think they’ve been the best footballing team that’s played at our place.
“There’s no underestimating Derry, it’s going to be a really tough game. But listen, everyone has to beat everyone to get to the final and win it. So that will be Derry’s mentality as well I’m sure.”
McEleney has won the league title and helped steer Dundalk to the group stages of the Europa League since arriving from Derry City but he admits he’s still hurting from last year’s FAI Cup final heartbreak against Cork City where Sean Maguire netted an extra-time winner.
And so he’s determined to make up for that disappointment and do everything he can to reach the November 5th final.
“Since I came here it’s been unbelievable. We won the league obviously and got beat in the FAI Cup final and got into the Europa League.
“It was a huge disappointment getting beat in the final. We played out in Russia on the Thursday and then played the final on the Sunday so it was a quick turnaround considering we went until the last kick of the ball against Zenit.
“I just felt everyone was exhausted by the time the final came and then we got it into extra-time. and we were very disappointed.
“We’re in the League Cup semi-final now and still in the FAI Cup so we still have a lot to play for. It’s all going well.
“Regarding the league, it’s not over until it’s over. They’ve done brilliantly to get to the position they’re in and nobody can really fault that.
“But for me, it’s not over until the league standings have been finalised. We still have plenty to play for.
“We’re still in the league cup semi-final as well and I think everything we’re in we’ll be doing everything we can to win.
“When you’re at Dundalk as a club, it’s all about winning trophies, especially now and that’s what we’re going to be judged on.”
Reflecting back on last season’s remarkable semi-final meeting with Derry, McEleney recalls it was a tough test of their credentials over the two games.
“Derry did brilliantly to get back in it. Obviously the return leg in Brandywell we made a lot of changes, rested about five and got through but it was two very, very tough games.
“Every time we’ve played Derry it’s been tough, they definitely know how to play.”
The Cup match against Derry is the first of back-to-back clashes with the Candy Stripes whom they meet the following Sunday at Maginn Park in the league.
Adding extra spice to those encounters is the fact former Derry City players, Michael Duffy, Niclas Vemmelund and McEleney will line-up against Kenny Shiels’ troops.
“It does add a bit of extra spice. I loved my time at Derry and I’m from there but I’ll be doing everything I can to win the game for Dundalk.
“I think it makes it a bit more difficult that we play them twice in quick succession, especially the second game. No matter where you play Derry it’s going to be tough but we’ll be well prepared for it.
“I think it helps that we’re at home and there will be a big crowd expecting a good game of football.”