Get your Mooju back: Dundalk FC's Stephen O'Donnell
It's been almost 20 years since the Louth club last lifted the League of Ireland title, but their most recent win was especially sweet for their returning captain Stephen O'Donnell...
It wasn't so long ago that Dundalk FC were facing one of their darkest days. In July 2012, the club released a statement outlining the bleak financial situation that they were facing.
The press release stated that, “people must be made aware that should the club not be in a position to pay another week’s wages to the players, resulting in a total of two weeks wages in arrears, that these players have the right to seek employment with other clubs."
The existence of the club itself was in severe jeopardy, but the then manager Darius Kierans somehow managed to preserve the Louth club's league status following a 4-2 relegation/promotion play-off with Waterford United.
Fast-forward to the present day and the mood at Oriel Park couldn't be any more different.
The scenes on Friday night were very much those of jubilation, excitement and redemption. Only two years ago the Lilywhites were staring into the League of Ireland abyss, now they're looking down on the rest of the teams from the position of champions and rightfully so.
Clip via - Stannage
The story of Dundalk in 2014 is very much one of a club whose players and manager finally fulfilled their potential after suffering numerous setbacks.
We've already documented the precarious financial situation that the club found themselves in a few years ago, but a massive amount of credit should go to their fans also who, just like those of Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians, rallied around their club during one of its darkest hours.
On the pitch this season Dundalk have been an absolute joy to watch and Stephen Kenny's men are without doubt the best team in the league.
Their 73 goals is the highest amount scored by any team, while they've also got the best defensive record having let in just 24. Oriel Park is a fortress as the newly-crowned champions have picked up 40 points from a possible 48 and they haven't been beaten in front of their own fans in the league this season.
This goal from Sean Gannon could be one of the best passing goals that was scored in any league around Europe.
Clip via- killianm2
We mentioned the word redemption earlier in the article because that's what this title represents in many ways. Stephen Kenny came in for a torrent of abuse following a brief unsuccessful spell at Shamrock Rovers but the former Derry City, Bohemians and Longford manager answered his critics in the best way possible.
His arrival has marked a sea change in Dundalk's fortune's as the Lilywhites have gone from relegation candidates to a double-winning side in the space of two seasons.
Part of Kenny's success has been identifying, developing and improving certain players that were cast aside by different clubs or who weren't exactly established first team players in their former clubs.
The remarkable progress of Andy Boyle, Sean Gannon and Darren Meenan has been one of the most notable stories of the season. Kenny has also proven adept in the transfer market with the shrewd signings of playmaker Richie Towell, defender Brian Gartland and the talented Daryl Horgan, while Patrick Hoban has been nothing short of a goalscoring machine.
We think it's fitting that the last word should go to the Lilywhite's talismanic captain Stephen O'Donnell because his journey this season has been oddly similar to the club's recent fortunes.
All League of Ireland fans know the quality that the former Arsenal trainee possesses. O'Donnell is a natural leader on the pitch whose passing, ferocious work ethic, eye for goal and sheer will to win has driven teams forward in the past.
The Galwegian was instrumental for the Lilywhites in the early start of the campaign before he picked up a very serious anterior cruciate ligament injury against his former club Shamrock Rovers in April. Six months away from action was made worse by the fact that he then picked up a blood clot which, scarily, could have cost him his life.
O'Donnell was used sparingly from the bench during Dundalk's title run-in, but big matches call for big players and, with a title on the line, we have no doubt that the Dundalk players would have received a boost knowing their skipper was back.
And what a return he made.
His 48th minute strike broke the deadlock as the stadium erupted and with the title on the line O'Donnell proceeded to deliver a man-of-the-match performance that saw the League of Ireland title return to Oriel Park for the first time in 19 years.
Dundalk FC; from financial anxiety to title ecstasy. Stephen O'Donnell; from injury worries to returning hero. An amazing story.
Get your Mooju back with great tasting chocolate and strawberry milk…