“It’s a sprint finish”

By Stephen Leonard

ST PATRICK’S Athletic manager Stephen O’Donnell sees this season’s Airtricity League campaign as a sprint to the line that will test his team severely.

The newly-restructured competition, which starts back tomorrow (Friday), consists of a total of 18 rounds of which Pat’s have already played four.

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St Patrick’s Athletic team manager Stephen O’Donnell has described this season’s Airtricity League campaign as a sprint and insists his side will have to hit the ground running this week

Two wins against Cork and Sligo Rovers together with two narrow defeats at the hands of Waterford and Shelbourne have left the Inchicore outfit sitting fourth in the table, nine points off pace-setters Shamrock Rovers who have played a match more.

O’Donnell is under no illusion as to the huge task his side faces in holding on to a European berth given the hectic programme his players face with limited preparation.

And their return to the league could not have been marked by a much more difficult challenge than a trip to Oriel Park to face the defending champions Dundalk tomorrow evening (Friday) followed by the visit of Derry City to Richmond Park on Monday.

“It’s a sprint finish” O’Donnell told The Echo. “We’re restarting into a 14-game league so it’s going to be very tight.

“We’ve got five games in the first 16 days, which is a little bit crazy if you’re asking me. Injuries are inevitable you would think, so it’s not fair on the players.

“I haven’t set the team any big goals. We just want to improve day on day and, wherever that takes us, we’ll see. We just want to get better as a group.

“We’ve got to hit the ground running and the players know that.

“Having only a month of pre-season after three months out is tough and coming up against teams who’ve had three weeks to a month more preparation is certainly not ideal.

“It’s been tough on the team, but then it’s been tough on everyone in the country. Nobody is coming out of this unscathed.

“But the players have shown a brilliant attitude. The players, the owners, management have all worked really hard and we’re just glad to be getting back to some sense of normality, just looking forward to get back playing a game of football.”

Leading his side to Oriel Park where he himself played for six seasons, O’Donnell insists the Saints will have to truly believe in themselves if they are to surmount the defending champions.

“The team has got to believe that they can go there and get a win” he stressed.

“They’ve got to go there with utter conviction and believe in their own ability as quality players in their own right and do themselves justice.

“Everyone makes mistakes and we’re not going to be getting on the players if they make a mistake, but what we’ll be looking for is a 100 percent honest performance” he said.

O’Donnell has been impressed with the form shown by his side in their opening four games of this season’s campaign despite managing to bag just half of the 12 points on offer.

“I think we dominated every game we’ve played” he said. “You look at those two one-nil defeats [against Waterford and Shelbourne] and I think the team dominated the play.

“They’ve done really well. It’s a new team really. We had 12 new players and so it’s still a new team coming back into the season.”

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