o'donnell's lilies relief
Midfielder delighted with return for Dundalk after bad knee injury
STEPHEN O'Donnell believes that a league medal with Dundalk this season would mean even more to him that previous successes because of the hardships which the midfielder has endured.
Last Friday's win over Athlone Town was a big deal for Dundalk as that win kept their title charge very much on course, and with those three points in the bag the Lilywhites will be crowned champions if they win their next two games, at home to Shamrock Rovers tonight and away to Bray Wanderers next Friday.
But was also a big moment for midfielder O'Donnell as the Galway native, sidelined since April due to a cruciate, came off the bench for the first time since he suffered that injury.
With the Dundalk midfield so strong in his absence, he knows he will struggle to force his way into the starting XI for the final three games of the season but with the league crown now in sight, there's a clear target for the player who has won league medals with Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers.
"If it happens this season for me in terms of the league it will be extra special due to the circumstances and the way the season went for me," says O'Donnell, who missed 22 league games during his injury-enforced absence.
"I know what winning a league means to a club from being at Bohs and Rovers before, but I know that it would mean an awful lot to Dundalk to win it this season as it's so long since the club had success.
"It's been a hard season for me so to to be back fit now, with a couple of games to go and the title to play for, is a big deal," added O'Donnell.
Of course the title is not yet won and Cork City have not relented in their pursuit of long-time leaders Dundalk, so O'Donnell insists that celebrations are on hold until that piece of silverware is secure.
"We have a big week ahead of us now, Rovers tonight and Bray next weekend," he says. "In fairness to Cork they have kept up the chase. But we have been strong and solid and we haven't had a blip all season.
"We lost to Pats a while back but we responded well and won the next three league games. Most league-winning teams have a wobble at some stage, we haven't had one but neither have Cork so if we are going to finish it off and win the title, we will do it the hard way."
Key for Dundalk is that matters are in their own hands, as their goal difference is so superior to that of Cork that, if Dundalk are three points ahead of that Dundalk-Cork CIty clash on the final day of the season, even a defeat will see them through due to that stunning goal difference.
"Barring something extraordinary on the last day we could be ok but our focus for now is Rovers tonight," added O'Donnell.
"We have had tough games against Rovers this season, they beat us in the FAI Cup and we beat them in the Setanta Cup and the League Cup so we know it will be tight.
"But I am confident enough that, if we play to our potential we can do enough to win the game."
For Rovers, a win tonight is essential if they are to have any hope of a third-place finish ahead of St Pats.
"It is a massive game for them but it is still a big game for us," says Rovers boss Pat Fenlon. "If Pat's do slip up, we want to make sure we have a chance to catch them. We're trailing them by seven points so our target is to go four behind them next Friday.
"The games against Dundalk have been tight this season. We have gone up there twice in the last few weeks and won one and lost one. The players are looking forward to going there for a game which will have a great atmosphere."