PATRICK McEleney reckons Derry City is one of the toughest teams Dundalk have faced this season and claims he’s been impressed by how quickly they’ve gelled together under Declan Devine.
The 26 year-old Shantallow man played under Devine for his hometown club during the 2012 FAI Cup winning season and recognises the fighting spirit and commitment shown by this current crop of players - characteristics, he believes, which epitomise the Candy Stripes boss.
Twice this season Derry have fought back from almost certain defeat to earn valuable draws against the current league leaders and McEleney believes their never-say-die attitude is a commendable trait which will take the team far this season.
“They’re a good side,” he admitted after Friday’s dramatic 2-2 draw. “They’re probably one of the toughest teams we’ve played to be honest. They’re energetic, try really hard and they obviously have their quality with Barry (McNamee) and I think Junior is a really good player too.
“I played under Decky and it’s nothing but 100 per cent. So fair play to them, they’re doing very well.
“It’s disappointing,” said the Derry man. “I think in the second half we were the better team and deserved to win overall.
“To be fair to Derry, they never give up and are really honest. They’re obviously really playing for Decky but we’re disappointed because it’s not like us.
“They don’t seem to give up and it’s a brilliant trait to have. In this league it will take you a long way.”
Former Oldham Athletic midfielder, McEleney came close to getting himself off the mark for the season with an ambitious first half strike which sailed over the crossbar and he admits his goal drought hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“It will come,” he smiled. “I’m getting some abuse to be honest but it happens. For me setting up the goals is as good as scoring. The manager wants me to be more ruthless and think about scoring more but whatever I can do to help the team. We’re on a brilliant run now. We’ve gone 15 or 16 games in all competitions now unbeaten so we just keep going.”
He cut a frustrated figure as Junior’s header deflected off him, past Gary Rogers and into the net in the 95th minute as he agonisingly fell to the ground as Dundalk’s nine match winning streak came to an abrupt end.
Over the last 15 league matches, Derry is the only team to take points off the Lilywhites - and they’ve done it twice!
McEleney felt Dundalk had done enough to clinch victory on Friday night but on reflection he was happy with a tally of seven points from games against Shamrock Rovers, Waterford and Derry as they consolidated their eight point lead on the summit.
“We’re massively disappointed because we know how to win games when we go ahead so it’s a credit to Derry I suppose.
“We’re still seven or eight points ahead so at least we can now focus on Europe. It’s been a massive week where we had Waterford, Rovers and Derry and to come out of that seven points clear is excellent. So we can focus on Europe because that’s where we will be judged.”
And they face a tough test at Oriel Park tomorrow as they entertain Latvian champions and current league leaders, Riga. There’s lots of pressure on Dundalk to do well in Europe this season as their American owners look for a return to the group stages of European football and financial packages that brings. However, McEleney is cautious heading into Wednesday’s first leg tie.
“A lot of people are underestimating them a bit. We’ve watched them and that’s our focus now. They’re sitting on top of their league by six or seven points so they’re a good side.
“They will be well respected by us. We will do our homework and will be looking to do well in the next week. We’re judged on how we do in Europe. We can win domestically as much as we can but as the club progresses it’s now all about Europe.
“We work so hard to get into the competition so we look forward to it so much now.”