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Skipper delighted to mark return with three late points

First Team News
// 19 Mar 2018

Dundalk captain Stephen O’Donnell made his first competitive appearance of the season on Friday night and was delighted to mark his return to the side with a dramatic late victory.

Speaking to dundalkfc.com after the 1-0 victory over Waterford, the skipper talked about the importance of snatching late goals.

“We spoke about that during the week funnily enough,” said O’Donnell. “We weren’t that happy as we weren’t really banging the door down on Monday night against Pats away, which isn’t like us, but tonight was more like us.

“We were really pressing, pressing, pressing and thankfully the winner came. A couple of years ago we had that ability. We done it again tonight and hopefully that’s a good omen for the future, that if the game is level we can just keep going and, more often than not, hopefully you’ll get a break.”

After a fairly even first half which saw chances for both sides, Dundalk cranked up the pressure after the interval and spent most of the second half on the front foot.

 “I think we looked very dangerous,” said O’Donnell. “We would have been gutted going in 0-0 after the chances we had second half, their keeper making saves, an off-side goal, so we’re just delighted to get the win.

“They are huge wins throughout the course of the league. You need breaks, you need to keep going to the end and get a lot of late goals. That’s a hallmark of any team that does well in the league so hopefully this the start of many to come.”

O’Donnell made his comeback as an 84th minute substitute and, having received a great welcome from the Oriel faithful, he made an immediate impact on the pitch.

“Obviously it feels great coming back, getting involved and helping out the team in any way you can. It’s great for all the lads coming off the bench and having an impact and it was great for the team spirit to get late winners. Hopefully that will drag us on now and keep the momentum going for next Saturday. It bodes well, but we need to keep the foot down.”

Having recovered from a calf injury in pre-season, O’Donnell’s fitness is improving all the time, but now his sights turn to Monday’s game against Portadown in a bid to increase his match sharpness.

“My main focus now is just to play in the friendly Monday night against Portadown, get some minutes under my belt and being available for when the manager sees fit to use me.

“I haven’t really played a full game since the cup final so obviously I’d like to get sharper, but hopefully Monday will bring me on now again and then I’ll be ready again and looking forward to Saturday against Sligo.”

Dundalk’s sixth consecutive clean sheet equalled the league record for the start of a campaign and O’Donnell paid tribute to a new-look back four for a solid start to the campaign.

“Dundalk has probably been synonymous with attacking football and scoring more than other teams, but this year really to have six clean sheets out of six is a brilliant achievement.

“The young centre halves and the back four have done brilliant as well. We dominate games so it’s important for them to keep switched on for counter-attacks and they’ve done that brilliantly. Hopefully that continues.”

The captain also paid tribute to goalkeeper Gary Rogers, who marked his landmark 500th league appearance with another crucial save and another clean sheet.

“Gary made a crucial save against Cork at 0-0 but when we were dominating the game and it was the same again tonight. Sometimes it’s hard as a keeper to be on a team that’s dominating. You have to keep your concentration because you might only be called into action once a night. He was there tonight with a great save.

“To reach 500 appearances is an unbelievable achievement. He’s only the 11th person in the history of the League of Ireland to do it, so hopefully he’ll be proud of it. To have the professionalism to be in that shape over that period of time and be available for that many games is testament to him. It’s a fantastic achievement.”