Foster Hopes Griffin Remains “Grounded” after “Huge Impact”
Dundalk FC manager Ian Foster is hoping that striking sensation Mark Griffin will “keep his feet on the ground” and continue to work hard in a bid to “develop himself into a really good striker”. The young star, who turned just 20 last month, has taken the League of Ireland by storm since breaking into the team against this Friday’s opponents UCD in May. Griffin has netted eight goals in ten league starts if his header against Bohemians earlier this month is counted. That goal is currently officially down as an Aidan Price own goal, but the club are looking into getting that changed, having reviewed video evidence which clearly shows that the young striker got a touch which took the ball goalwards.
That would give the former Muirhevnamor forward goals in the last five league games, something that has not been done at the club since Mick Fairclough in 1981/82, and it leave him within two games of the record held jointly by Danny Hale (1966/67) and Cathal Muckian (1978/79). There was no doubt about his latest strike as he found the net against Saint Patrick’s Athletic last Sunday before making the second for Keith Ward as Dundalk took a 2-2 draw away from Richmond Park. Before scoring, as he converted Stephen Maher’s 33rd-minute cross, Griffin, for the first time since coming into the team, spurned a clear opening as he shot wide with just Gary Rogers to beat. But Foster was delighted that the youngster did not allow that missed chance to play on his mind, as just 13 minutes later he found the net with a clinical finish.
“It was nice to see that that didn’t affect his game,” Ian told dundalkfc.com. “His link-up play was OK and he is a constant menace and a constant threat. He took his goal really, really well; it bobbled into him and he smashed it on the half-volley and gave the ‘keeper no chance. His header for the second goal as well was a wonderful leap. I know Keith got the final touch on it but it was goal-bound. He is a threat not only on the deck but in the air as well for such a small fella.” Asked how much Griffin has eased his headache as experienced striker Jason Byrne continues to struggle with a hamstring injury, Foster said: “That’s why you have a squad. The likes of Mark and Johnny (Breen) have always been knocking on the door. It is the one area where we went long periods without having any injuries. This weekend, we’re without Mark Quigley, so that’s something new to us. We haven’t had a league game without Mark, and we will have to see how we cope without him.”
And Foster knows that there is still more to come from Griffin, and he is hoping that the Melbourne-born hitman can build on what he has done over the last eight weeks. “There is an awful lot for him to learn,” the Liverpool-born boss said. “He has played less than 20 competitive games for Dundalk Football Club and I think we can only really judge him after maybe 50 and after a full season where people know a lot more about him and people work out maybe how to play against him. Then we’ll have to see what he has got about him to see if he can still manage to score goals. His goals-for-game ratio is eight in 19 in his career. I’m sure he’ll get that ratio down to one-in-two, but his goals-for-starts ratio is fabulous (eight in 12). A lot of his appearances, he has come on for five or ten minutes. He is having a huge impact on the squad and a huge impact on the league as well, and long may that continue. It’s up to Mark now to keep his feet on the ground, not get carried away with himself, continue to work hard in training and develop himself into a really good striker.”
Reflecting on his side’s overall display in Inchicore, Foster added: “I was delighted with the performance. We played some smashing stuff on Sunday. We were always going to be under pressure from set-pieces and long throw-ins – we knew that going into the game. We dealt well with it at times. Obviously, we conceded from a corner, which is disappointing, and Stephen Maher is disappointed that he switched off for that second. It cost us a goal, but he certainly made up for that with his marauding run down the right-hand side of the pitch and he put in a wonderful ball for Mark Griffin’s goal. We played some really good stuff. We should have had a penalty. The referee gave a free-kick on the line of the box when the linesman clearly flagged it was inside the box. It’s a miscommunication between officials I think there, because Mark (Quigley) was well on the way, closing down the ‘keeper when the linesman put his flag up. If Mark Griffin puts his chance away in the first half and we get a penalty there, then it’s a different game.
“But, overall, a point was the least we deserved,” he added. “We dominated for long periods. They were always going to get chances on the break because of how direct they go. But I thought we played some smashing football. The players are very brave in the manner that they approach games. We do play an open system and you have got to be able to look after the ball when you do that. The players took responsibility and handled it very well.” St. Pat’s are currently just a point off top, but if Dundalk had beaten them three times, which Foster’s side’s performances arguably deserved, the Lilywhites would now be just two off the summit. And he admitted that he is disappointed to have taken just one point from the three encounters. “I’m disappointed that we’ve only taken a point off them bearing in mind the games have been so close,” Ian said, “and bearing in mind that we’ve had the lead in every single one of the games so far. It’s disappointing that we’ve only managed to get a point off them. But they have still got to come here (on 23 September). It won’t be easy when they do. Hopefully, we can get one or two bodies back in the meantime and we’ll try to make it as difficult as we possibly can for them.”
For the first time this season, Foster will not be able to call on the services of 14-goal striker Mark Quigley, who has appeared in the side’s 32 competitive games this term, starting all but one of them (in the League Cup), as he misses out through suspension. “It’s a blow to us, absolutely,” Ian said. “Mark has been our most consistent and best player this season. He has been in the top three players in the league this year, without a shadow of a doubt for me. His performances have been fabulous and we’ll miss him because any team would miss a Mark Quigley in the form he’s in. It’s disappointing, but that’s part and parcel of it. Mark is a competitive lad, he has got four bookings this season and we have to just deal with that, and someone else will get an opportunity.” UCD will also be missing their top marksman, Graham Rusk, who has netted six times in the league this season, including against Derry City, Sligo Rovers and St. Pat’s, as he also serves a one-match ban. “It does help us,” Foster said. “I’m sure that Martin (Russell) will echo my comments in that you want your best players on the pitch. Mark comes into that category with us, and I’m sure Rusk does with him as well. Suspensions are part of the game – we have got to get on with it.”
With a trip to The Brandywell coming next week – the last game before the midseason break – Foster knows it is crucial that his side pick up three points against UCD. But he knows the task will not be a straight-forward one. That is despite the two previous meetings ending in victories for Dundalk, as goals from Ross Gaynor, Daniel Kearns and Jason Byrne gave them a 3-1 win in Oriel Park on 1 April before Griffin’s double secured a 2-0 triumph on 20 May. “It’s important that we win but it won’t be easy,” he said. “Both games against UCD have been very, very tough. We scored at a very good time (two goals just before half-time) when we played them at home, because it was very, very close up until we got the goals, and goals change games. UCD away was very tough too. They passed it about for long periods and kept the ball away from us; you find it tough against UCD at times because they can do that to you.
“I’m sure Friday will be no different when they have a spell in the game,” he added, “and we have got to keep our concentration and try to keep them away from our goal, because they are a threat. We’re desperate to get the three points on Friday but we’re under no illusions how difficult that task is against a wonderfully-gifted UCD team.” If Dundalk do win, it would help stop the rot of their home form as they have lost three of their last four outings at Oriel Park. And Foster is keen to turn that run around. “It has been disappointing,” he admitted in conclusion. “We got a lot of pride in our home performances early on in the season and the results of late have hurt us. We need to put that right on Friday night. Like I said, it’s not an easy game to put it right, but I think you’ll see from my players’ attitudes from the first whistle how desperate they’ll be to get three points.”
Daniel Kearns, after signing a short-term deal the day before, made his club debut at home to UCD, on 6 August last.
And in the Students’ next visit to the border venue, Kearns grabbed his first league goal for the club as he scored on the stroke of half-time in a 3-1 win for Dundalk on 1 April.