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Saturday 10 December 2016

Champions are not Dun' and dusted yet

Brian Gartland congratulates Andy Boyle on scoring the first goal against Bohemians on Sunday night that handed them their third successive League of Ireland title
Brian Gartland congratulates Andy Boyle on scoring the first goal against Bohemians on Sunday night that handed them their third successive League of Ireland title

Dundalk's players have, for the last few years, adopted the Roy Keane approach to medal-collecting: put the silverware in a box, stick it in the attic and put your mind to winning even more.

But even their humility is being tested by the magnitude of their achievements of late, Stephen Kenny's side entering the record books on the back of a third successive league title.

"If there is ever a time to blow your own trumpet, it's after winning three leagues in a row. We are a modest enough group normally but I think after this, we will take a bit of credit," says defender Andy Boyle, a player whose career appeared to have ground to a halt in the First Division at Shelbourne before he was reborn under Kenny at a revived Dundalk, to the extent where a move to a decent-level club abroad is very much an option for the 25-year-old.

"We enjoyed Sunday night. We have had an insane schedule, people don't really know this but we have been in every day for a month now, working hard, so to be able to go out as a group on Sunday night was something we deserved.

"In my memory this is the best team there has been in Ireland. When I started going to League of Ireland at a young age I'd have watched the Pat's teams of the Martin Russell era, they were a great side. But what we are doing in Europe, where we are competitive against top sides, has given us an edge and to do three in a row is no mean feat. A lot of teams have won two in a row but three is exceptional."

The bad news for the rest of the league is that this Dundalk team retains its hunger for trophies, backing up that Keane credo of following up success by getting more.

Failed

Good teams of recent eras like Shelbourne (2003-04), Bohemians (2008-09) and Shamrock Rovers (2011-11) managed to win back to back titles but were unable to make it to three in a row, and each of those clubs have tried but failed to reach the heights since then.

Lack of money, diminished appetites and stronger competition from others ended those eras. Of that trio, Shamrock Rovers came closest to Dundalk this season but by tonight the Hoops could be 25 points behind the champions.

"Certainly, the Dublin clubs haven't done too well over the last three years. They are still good clubs and they want to be back up there so the more challenges we have in the league, the better, but this team keeps excelling itself," added Boyle.

Striker Dave McMillan has already set himself one target: getting a new deal to keep him at Oriel Park, though given his contribution of goals in 2016 that's a given, but he's eager for this side to remain as intact as possible.

"Lads have been linked with moves already, especially Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle, and I am sure people outside of Ireland will be looking at Stephen Kenny for the job he's done. I'm just focused on getting a contract for here for next year as I don't want to leave, I want to carry on winning trophies," says McMillan with a smile.

"A lot of people questioned us a few weeks ago and, with our schedule of games, that was understandable. Even at the beginning of the year, people had picked other teams to go on and win the league.

"For us we were just focused on what we'd been good at over the previous two years and going a step further. When you have won a double it's hard to top that, so to have cracked Europe by making the group stages and then getting some points it was a phenomenal achievement, and to top that all off with another league win was something else. To win it with two games to go is a great achievement," added the former UCD man.

Hard-working

Boyle may not be in Ireland next season as he will be in demand but if he is a Dundalk man in 2017 as rivals try to claw back the gap, he sees more of the same from a hungry, hard-working bunch.

"It's hard to say if teams can catch us," Boyle told The Herald. "What strikes me about this club is the way people are when we come back for pre-season. It would be easy for lads to go off, have a good off-season and not look after themselves but they come back fitter, we want to keep driving on, keep bettering ourselves. If we can keep this squad together, who knows what else we can achieve?"

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