Dundalk defender Brian Gartland will undergo a scan today (Tuesday) to determine the extent of the knee injury picked up in the early stages of Friday night’s 2-1 defeat to Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium.
Making his first outing of 2021, the 34-year-old went down in agony while attempting to track a player following a short Rovers free kick inside the opening 30 seconds of the game.
After five minutes of treatment, Gartland was stretched off with fears that he may have suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
That is the same injury that former team-mate Stephen O’Donnell suffered in a 2-2 draw with Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park on Good Friday 2014 which saw him miss the bulk of that campaign before memorably returning to start and score along with Gartland in the 2-0 win over Cork City on the final day which saw Dundalk clinch their first league title in 19 years.
While everyone will hope that Gartland can make a safe and speedy recovery, even in a best case scenario he is set for an extended period on the sidelines which will rob Dundalk of a major defensive option and leadership on and off the field.
Sonni Nattestad remains suspended for Friday night’s clash against Bohemians at Oriel Park (kick-off 7.45pm, live on WATCHLOI) so Filippo Giovagnoli and Shane Keegan will have to play someone slightly out of position if they want to persist with playing three centre halves.
Irish underage international centre back Tom Gaston remains on trial at the club and could be fast-tracked as a signing depending on performances in training although it is understood four or five other trialists were also expected at Oriel Park in the coming weeks even before Gartland’s injury although it is not known if any of these are defenders.
In better news for Dundalk, Daniel Kelly will be hoping to make his return from injury to face his old side on Friday while Central African Republic international Wilfried Zahibo could sign in time for the clash with Bohs, although the match after that against St Patrick’s Athletic remains a greater likelihood due to hotel quarantine arrangements and the knock-on effect that has on a player’s fitness and diet.
Asked about the former Valencia star before the Rovers game last week, team manager Shane Keegan said: “I think we’re very, very nearly there. We’re just trying to box it off collectively.
“I can’t see any circumstances under which it doesn’t happen so I think it’s just about wrapping it up and trying to get it over the line and getting an announcement out there and getting him in with the group.”
Asked would he be available for the clash with The Gypsies, Keegan said: “I’d say it could be a possibility at the moment if we can get him in and get some training sessions into him.”
Keegan also confirmed that American midfielder Taner Dogan and Canadian full back Terique Mohammed had returned to the club having initially been sent out on loan to Athlone Town but neither will be eligible to play for Dundalk until July having initially been registered with the Midlanders.
Both Bohemians and Dundalk, second and third in last season’s curtailed season, have taken just one point from their opening three matches to date and will be looking to kick-start their season at the weekend.
Meanwhile, Dundalk FC last week announced Permanent TSB as their new official banking partner. The partnership will see the Clanbrassil Street branch offer advice and support to club players, staff and supporters alike on financial decisions.
It will be two years ago on Monday, April 12th, since Dundalk slumped to a 2-1 defeat away to Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers were declared “title winners in waiting” having gone 13 points clear at the top of the table, albeit with a couple of games in hand.
That was a concerning time to be a Lilywhites supporter. Stephen Kenny had recently departed and there were definite question marks over his old assistant Vinny Perth’s ability to step up into the top job.
That night in The Showgrounds was bleak but Perth came out immediately from the dressing room and faced the music, held his hands up on certain matters and earned credit for it.
The rest, as they say, is history as Dundalk never really looked back from that moment that season and went on to win the title – ironically against the Hoops – with four matches to spare.
Fast forward 24 months on from that night and another management set up is equally at a crossroads. While no one in the media is calling for Filippo Giovagnoli or Shane Keegan’s head just yet, a large number of supporters have made their minds up about the pair.
Disappointingly, unlike what Perth did in Sligo two years ago, we can’t hear directly from the decision maker with Keegan coming out afterwards to face the media to defend players he didn’t sign, a team selection he didn’t make and tactics that he might not even truly believe in. No player also put themselves forward either to at least show they still had faith in turning things around or perhaps try to put out a few fires that are now burning.
Patrick Hoban did speak to the club website and his words told us what we could have probably already guessed… the side have zero faith in Alessio Abibi.
The Albanian goalkeeper was at fault for Finn Harps’ opener seven days earlier and on Friday night in Tallaght Stadium definitely could have done much better for both of Rovers’ goals.
Abibi – while deserving of some criticism – is an easy target though as, from top to bottom, every player needs to do better.
The management team also need to work harder on the small details. A week earlier, Finn Harps stood in front of every free kick that Dundalk got to prevent them taking a quick one. Had we done similar, perhaps Danny Mandriou doesn’t even get the shot away for his opener.
There have been other minor things that, when all added up, don’t make a lot of sense. Andy Boyle has always been the left sided centre back in the back four during his time at Dundalk but against Finn Harps he played on the right of it. When Dundalk switched things up against Rovers on Friday though, he was back on the left side.
Similarly, Ryan O’Kane had played all his football to date for Dundalk on the left but on Friday was thrown in for his debut on the right. Wingers switching position is not uncommon – Junior is another example of a player who has played both sides already in his short time at the club – but there are obvious question arks over putting a 17-year-old into such a big game.
Everyone at Oriel Park is excited about O’Kane’s talent but the pitch in Tallaght has been taken in so much and is so narrow that it was never really likely to suit his talents. While rumours beforehand swirled he would start based on advice from America, there is also a duty of care not to knock someone so young’s confidence which a half-time substitution had the potential to do.
Similarly, David McMillan must be wondering what he has done wrong. On his last outing against Shamrock Rovers he scored a hat-trick to win the FAI Cup but on Friday night with Dundalk chasing the game he was left on the bench with the major change coming at left back.
Two years ago when things looked bleak it was a home match against Bohemians that turned it around with Patrick Hoban’s 94th minute penalty earning a victory the side scarcely deserved. It proved to be the first of a 23 match unbeaten run which included 21 wins and just the two draws, both against Derry City.
What seemed unlikely then needs to happen now if we’re to avoid more upheaval at the club.
It might only be three games in but the reactions to the superb Town End and The Men Who Save Football podcasts after Friday night show that supporters’ patience is wearing thin and, while that might seem premature, a lot of those views are based on form stretching back to last season and a setup off the field that is leaving a lot to be desired.
As we enter into round four of the campaign, a number of season ticket holders have yet to be sorted out and player sponsorships only began to be promoted last week. On and off the field, it’s as if the club wasn’t ready for the start of this season and as a result the club has much to do to show it is a well oiled machine.
Bohs was a turning point two years ago. It needs to be again come 10pm on Friday night.
Dundalk team manager Shane Keegan took encouragement from his side’s display despite their wait for a first victory of the season continuing at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night.
The Laois man said there were “an awful lot of positives” on the night despite the 2-1 defeat and expressed the view that his side’s performance was much better than the one against Finn Harps seven days earlier when the Lilywhites lost out on the same scoreline.
Asked if he felt both goals could have been kept out, Keegan said: “I thought there was a difference between the two of them but obviously I’m only seeing them in real time.
“I’m directly behind Danny (Mandriou) as he hits the ball, as soon as it leaves his boot, I think it’s heading into the top corner, maybe it’s different on TV, and the second one, again, I initially didn’t think there was any questions but it has been said to me we could have done better on the second one but jesus if you’re telling me coming here that we’re going to be limiting them to potshots from distance like that… I’ve had a quick look at the numbers and if you told me that it would be six shots on target to three shots on target in our favour coming here, we’re taking those numbers all day long because you’re expecting to come out on the right side.”
Keegan said there were positives to take from the display, particularly in the second half.
“They did look dangerous on the break too to be fair to them but, yeah, look, losing Garts as early as we did threw us off our stride.
“We started with our game plan in the back three and he was very, very important in that. We’ve eventually gone to change shape and looking back on it, there’s no doubt we should have done that sooner. As soon as we lost Garts we probably should have done that.
“We know that on the sideline and we’ve spoken about it in the dressing room and once we have changed to it, yeah we’ve absolutely bossed it from there for the next half an hour. Three off the woodwork is it? I said last week I thought Mark McGinley made a save that was going to be in one of the top three this season but Mannus has topped it with one of the saves there tonight. He was excellent for them in fairness.
“The only thing this week has in common with last week is that we’re coming away with zero points again. Last week was awful, everything we did last week had to be thrown out, and it was start from scratch, that’s absolutely not the case with this week’s performance. This week’s performance had an awful lot of positives, an awful lot we would try to build on and it genuinely shows we are moving in the right direction.”
When it was pointed out that the conversation over the goalkeeper was the same as last week, Keegan said: “Yeah he’s going to be annoyed at himself if there’s mistakes two weeks in a row but without seeing it back, I don’t know whose blame it was at this moment.”
One of the key decisions of the match was to start 17-year-old Ryan O’Kane for the first time but the local youngster was subsequently withdrawn at half-time for Ole Erik Midtskogen.
On O’Kane, Keegan said: “Maybe we got that one slightly wrong.
“He just made such an impact for us last week and looked so good in training that it was a case of rolling the dice a little bit.
“The change is moreso again down to us deciding that we need to do things slightly differently in the second half. If we made a decision to do things differently in the second half and go a bit more direct then it makes sense to replace a 5ft 5in fella with a 6ft 5in fella.
“Ryan is an absolutely fantastic talent, he’s going to get so many minutes this season and he’ll have a huge impact on this season but Ole showed glimpses of why he’s going to be a useful addition as well,” said Keegan.
Dundalk striker Patrick Hoban admitted he was “embarrassed” by the club’s start to the season and said it was “simply not good enough” that the Lilywhites had just one point from a possible nine on the board following Friday’s defeat to Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium.
In an interview for the club website, the 29-year-old called for his side to take a “long hard look” at themselves and to stop conceding “terrible goals” following serious question marks over Alessio Abibi’s display in the defeat to the Hoops.
After the club’s worst start to a season in 15 years and the worst start to a Premier Division campaign since 1998/99 when they also had a single point from their opening three matches, Hoban opened up on the frustration in the Dundalk dressing room at the manner in which they were conceding goals right now.
He said: “I missed a few chances with hitting the post and stuff like that but at the end of the day when you concede goals like that you’re going to make it a long, long season for ourselves.
“There were a lot of words said in there and we need to start taking a long hard look at ourselves now and make sure that next week that we win. It’s plain and simple, there is no two ways about it.
“I’m a small bit embarrassed to be honest with you, one point from nine, that’s not us so we need to make sure we get things going this week and make sure that we’re ready for Bohs.
“We need three points and we need to stop conceding terrible goals. The goals will come if we keep getting chances like that but we need to stop conceding sloppy goals. It’s frustrating.”
In what was a clear indication of how he and his team-mates rate their goalkeeper, Hoban said the side were giving themselves too much of a mountain to climb by conceding such poor goals.
“It’s frustrating because we had spoke before the game about them taking quick free kicks and stuff like that. It’s really frustrating to concede a goal like that because they played some nice football but they didn’t really hurt us so to concede two goals from 20-plus yards away is very frustrating.
“I thought we done quite well at times. We created chances. We’ve hit the crossbar, I’ve hit the post and the keeper has pulled off some good saves so it was a frustrating night but at the end of the day you’ve a mountain to climb when you’re 2-0 down against anyone in this league and we need to stop doing that to ourselves.”
Not even his second goal of the season late on lifted Hoban’s spirits.
“That goal doesn’t count,” he said.
“We’ve lost the game. We need to stop losing games and we need to stop conceding bad goals. If you do that against any team it’s a mountain to climb and it’s literally impossible to try and get back in the game.
“We didn’t start well today and you could see that. They kind of boxed us there for the first 10 minutes and it was highly frustrating. We got into it but if you’re going to switch off for free kicks and stuff like that then you’re going to get punished in this league. You’re going to get punished and we did and it was the same for the second goal as well. If we keep doing that it’ll be a long season so we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and make sure we correct all the problems for next week.”
Hoban said it was now imperative that Dundalk won at all costs at home to Bohemians on Friday night (kick-off 7.45pm, live on WATCHLOI) to kick-start their season.
“We need to get going now next week and not feel sorry for ourselves. We can’t afford to because before we know it we will be out of the title race.
“It’s so early in the season for me to say that and I never thought I would have to say that but I’m actually embarrassed that we have only one point from three games, completely embarrassed, and it needs to change for next week.
“I’m not used to losing games of football for Dundalk FC and that’s why I’m highly embarrassed so we need to make sure that we train well next week and make sure we go into Bohs next week and get three points, plain and simple. We need to start winning games of football because at this moment in time, it’s simply not good enough,” said Hoban.
Shane Keegan has admitted Dundalk need to improve off the field as when as on it if they are to improve as a club.
For the third week in-a-row, the weekly press conference at Oriel Park last Wednesday was dominated by a talking point not directly related to the upcoming game.
In the latest debacle, Dundalk were shocked to learn that Sonni Nattestad would be banned for two matches following his President’s Cup red card, with the Faroe Islands defender set to miss the crunch games with Shamrock Rovers on Friday and Bohemians on April 9th as the first match of his ban couldn’t count against Finn Harps last weekend because he was on international duty.
Speaking about the matter, Keegan said: “We need to do our homework a little better.
“There has been a bit of turnover in the last while in terms of staff and we maybe weren’t as clued in as we needed to be.”
While Keegan’s comments highlight the fact that there isn’t a strong enough understanding of the FAI rules, supporters have been left increasingly frustrated by poor communication from the club in recent months.
On a personal note, I have made nine attempts to renew a season ticket dating back to last November with requests made in person and via email ignored while phone calls to Oriel Park have gone unanswered. I’m not alone in this regard.
Furthermore, as a player sponsor for the last few years it was surprising that I wasn’t asked again this year. Again, I’m not alone with one supporter of the club who has provided sponsorship over a 50 year period contacting me on Friday wondering why he hadn’t been asked. Those complaints might seem small fry but with 29 player sponsorship opportunities vacant as per Friday’s programme, that equates to income of over €10,000 that the club are potentially missing out, not to mention the loss of season ticket revenue.
For much of the past year the club has provided more drama than shows like Fair City and the simple things not being done is impacting the mood of a number of people at Oriel Park, most notably the players.
Friday’s match against Finn Harps might have been the first at Oriel Park this year but even last year after Harry Taaffe’s passing the usual sight of the pitch being brushed before kick-off and watered has been absent with no one seemingly taking up a task which infuriates the team when it doesn’t happen.
Keegan himself has spent much of the past few weeks and months dealing with paperwork in the office. For someone who is supposed to be the top man at the club now, that shouldn’t be his job. It’s almost the equivalent of hiring an architect to design an extension for your home and instead getting him to cut the grass.
Padraig McGowan has recently been appointed club secretary and while he has been a magnificent servant and supporter of the club over a long period, he is ultimately a volunteer who has a full time job in Dublin that is, rightly so, his priority.
For a club that is supposed to be the biggest in the country and aiming to be ‘the European club in Ireland’ it is baffling that the simple tasks are being overlooked and that jobs of great importance are being given to volunteers at a time when players are being recruited for presumably big sums from across the globe, some of whom will never be good enough for the first team.
As Keegan pointed out, there has been a high turnover of staff over the winter but Jim Magilton is now in his role as sporting director for three months.
He has brought some improvements already – that’s not in question – but it’s baffling that the club is in a situation where there are regular drone cameras flying above Oriel Park for promotional videos and yet the club can’t seem to respond to emails or pick up the phone.
A bit like the results on the field so far, the club must do better off it.