Dundalk captain Chris Shields insists his side “only have ourselves to blame” for their worst start to a season since his first at the club back in 2012.
However, the midfielder has challenged his side to bounce back in style when they travel to face reigning league champions Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night.
A 2-1 defeat to Finn Harps on the back of the opening day draw away to Sligo Rovers has piled early pressure on the Lilywhites ahead of a daunting run of fixtures which will see them face Rovers, Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic in their next three matches.
While it might be early in the season, Shields is well aware that the spotlight on Dundalk will grow further if they fail to win in Tallaght this weekend but despite a disappointing defeat to Harps on Friday – Dundalk’s first against the Donegal side since November 2007 – the 30-year-old feels another battle with Rovers could be the perfect game to help his side bounce back.
It’s a big game no matter when it comes in the season but it is just coming so early,” he said.
“I’m sure it will be the perfect game to bounce back because you can’t afford to put in another performance like that.
“We have no choice but to move on. There’s no point in wallowing in self pity going into a big game like that next Friday. We just have to get on with it on the training ground this week,” he said.
Asked would it take time for some of the new players in the squad to gel, Shields said: “Hopefully not because we don’t really have time on our side.
“You see the lads tonight and that’s their competitive debut and they’ve had an impact. Ryan (O’Kane) is only 17 and Chino (Jesus Perez) has only come over from America. He’s in a total different setup than he is used to but he has made an instant impact and hopefully more lads can be like them and kick on.
“It’s hard, we were missing Sonni. Although we’ll be missing Sonni again now for the ridiculous red card. It’s classic FAI, really looking after the suspension’s list. We were also missing Raivis. The lads are on international duty but we have a squad there and we should have been winning that game.”
Shields said he felt Foley’s second goal, which he thought was offside initially but was actually on, hurt Dundalk at a time when he thought his side were getting on top in the game.
“It kind of just took the wind out of our sails conceding the second goal because I thought we were well on top and we were starting to turn the screw really well.
“I think Ryan O’Kane was having a good effect when he came on, the same with Chino (Jesus Perez) when he came on for his debut and then their goal is just like a sucker punch.
“If you lose any game in this league especially Finn Harps at home then you’re going to be disappointed.
“Finn Harps are Finn Harps and they’re really good at what they do. Ollie and Hegsy probably don’t get enough praise for what they do within the budget that they have. They set up well and the way we expected them to set up and we’ve given them a goal coming up to half-time and it was a bad time to give a goal like that away,” said Shields.
Shane Keegan defended goalkeeper Alessio Abibi after his howler paved the way for Finn Harps to record a first win over Dundalk in almost 14 years at Oriel Park last night.
The Albanian was caught in possession by Adam Foley three minutes before half-time as the striker charged down his attempted clearance with the ball deflecting to the net.
Despite Patrick Hoban pulling a goal back for the home side three minutes after the restart, Foley beat the Dundalk offside trap to get the better of Abibi again in the 63rd minute to ensure Ollie Horgan’s side made it two wins from two at the start of the new SSE Airtricity League Premier Division season.
It was the Donegal side’s first win over the Lilywhites in any competition since a 2-0 play-off victory in November 2007 and the first time they had won at Oriel Park in almost 15 years since a 3-1 victory in May 2006.
While most of the spotlight fell on Abibi after his error, team manager Keegan refused to point the finger at the 24-year-old saying the overall performance “wasn’t good enough” on the night.
“The goal is the goal but I’ve no real quarrel with the goal,” he said.
“We got a point out of Sligo last week because of Alessio and we won the President’s Cup the week before because of Alessio.
“Something like that will happen to a keeper. Now it shouldn’t happen to him more than once or twice in a season but when it does happen you’re relying on the rest of your team to get you out of jail and show enough quality to go and win the game anyway when something like that happens to you but unfortunately we haven’t done that,” said the Laois man.
Keegan said he didn’t think the error would impact Abibi’s confidence going forward.
“I doubt it. I like him. He’s a larger than life personality and, not that it will be water off a duck’s back to him, but he is big and bold enough to be able to deal with something like that.
“I don’t think it will hit his confidence and I think he will bounce back next week. He has made one outstanding save in the second half so I think he’ll be fine.”
Keegan said it was disappointing how little his side created and admitted the lack of matches in pre-season might have had an impact on the performance.
“It’s the conclusion you’d jump to after a result like that,” he said.
“The lack of bodies was a big problem for us as well. We think we’ve recruited really well and yet we were without four or five of those bodies that we’ve brought in. That said, we’ve put out a team onto the pitch that is good enough to go and win the game as well so it’s very little excuse for us to be able to lean on.
“Half an hour into the game Ollie is roaring at his lads to try and get into the game. We have dominated but we’ve dominated in terms of possession but let’s be honest, we haven’t created a huge amount for all the possession that we’ve had.”
The former Galway Utd boss said it was now important that Dundalk bounced back against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght on Friday night.
“We have zero time to feel sorry for ourselves,” he said.
“It’s Rovers, followed by Bohs, followed by Pat’s. If we’re going to wallow in self-pity then the season will be over before we get our act together so we’ve zero time to feel sorry for ourselves.
“We’ve got to put in an incredible week of hard work next week and we need to engage the brains as a collective and figure out what wasn’t good enough and how we’re going to fix it and just get to work on it,” said Keegan.
Dundalk face being without Patrick McEleney for up to a month after the midfielder picked up a new injury in training last week.
The Derry man had faced the media last Wednesday ahead of Friday night’s game against Finn Harps – which the Lilywhites lost 2-1 – and had spoken about his desire for a run in the side after an injury-disrupted couple of seasons.
However, it is understood that the midfielder pulled a hamstring in training on Thursday which will rule him out of this Friday’s crunch match against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium (kick-off 7.45pm, live on RTÉ Two), as well as potentially several other games.
Speaking about his injury problems last week, McEleney said: “It’s been bad. It’s no secret that I had a bad year with injuries last year but I’ve come back really well and I’ve had nothing so I’ll be doing my best to stay injury free.”
Asked was there one injury he could trace his problems back to, he said: “I broke my foot in the first game against Sligo in 2019 and it was just one after another after that.
“When I came back from that I played about 20 odd games in a row and then in the FAI Cup semi final away to Sligo later in the year I slipped and tore my hamstring. It just seemed to be one thing after another. It was just so stop start. “I did manage to play in most of the big games last year but if I can stay injury free, it will be so much better.”
The 28-year-old had also spoken of his desire to contend for the PFAI Player of the Year award last week having been runner-up to Seani Maguire in 2017.
“The year when I came second in the Player of the Year, I had one injury that season. The next year I had the Player of the Year award as a target but that’s when I had all of the breakdowns and injuries and it was the same the following year.
“It is one of my targets, though, and I know what I can do when I’m injury free. I’m my own biggest critic and I don’t doubt myself if I can say injury free.”
McEleney won’t be Dundalk’s only absentee against Rovers with Sean Murray and Ole Erik Midtskogen remaining sidelined and Sonni Nattestad – who became the first Dundalk player since Joey Donnelly in 1936 to score on international duty for the Faroe Islands in their 3-1 defeat to Austria in Vienna on Sunday – facing a two match ban for his red card in the President’s Cup final earlier this month.
Despite being away on international duty for Friday’s defeat to Finn Harps, Dundalk were dismayed to discover that the clash with the Donegal men wouldn’t count towards the defender’s ban so he will also miss the visit of Bohemians to Oriel Park on Friday week, April 9th.
Team manager Shane Keegan said: “I just can’t wrap my head around it. Surely it has to be one or the other. Either the game gets called off because of it or, if the game isn’t called off, then one of his suspension games gets used up. I just cannot wrap my head around it but it is what it is and there is no point whinging about it now.
“I don’t really have a problem with him missing the Shamrock Rovers game; the problem is with him missing the Bohs game the following week. That’s the real kick in the gut but you have to be careful what you say here.”
In better news for Dundalk, injured pair Daniel Kelly and Val Adedokun will hope to step up their return to first-team affairs this week while Brian Gartland could also come into contention having been an unused substitute against Finn Harps on Friday.
As exclusively revealed by The Argus Dundalk also completed a move for South Korean winger Han Jeong Woo last week with the 22-year-old making his debut by playing the final 10 minutes of the defeat to Finn Harps.
Keegan said he and Ryan O’Kane were the two positives to take from the defeat.
On O’Kane, the Laois man said: “I thought he was absolutely when he came on.”
Keegan said it hadn’t been his intention to use Han so soon but was pleased with his early promise.
“It was necessity. He’s had one collective training session and yet I think you saw why we’re kind of excited about him as well. By that stage we had McMillan and Hoban on the pitch so you’re looking to get as many crosses into the box and he’s got a sweet left foot. I thought he put in a couple of fantastic deliveries so there are positives there to take away but we need to build on them and we just need to find another three, four or five gears because it is in us.”
Keegan also admitted in his programme notes for Friday’s game that the club were hopeful of bringing in former Valencia midfielder Wilfried Zahibo but that deal is unlikely to be completed in time for him to face Rovers.
On the 27-year-old, he said: “With Wilfried, we’re pretty much there and now it’s just about trying to get everything boxed off.
“He is the complete central midfielder and he would give us a tremendous presence. Some players have brilliant technical ability but might not have the same physicality while some have tremendous physicality and aren’t quite as technical. Wilfried ticks both boxes and is the complete midfielder so hopefully we can get it finalised in the near future.”
Meanwhile, Dundalk last week announced two new commercial deals with local businesses RockSalt and XXI Ice coming on board as sponsors. RockSalt, who have outlets in Blackrock and Earl Street in Dundalk, are the club’s new official Good Food Partner while XXI Ice, who are based on Clanbrassil Street, have become the official Premium Hand Rolled Ice Cream partner.
Dundalk are set to finally land a South Korean winger after being frustrated in their initial attempts.
Over the winter Han Eui-gwon had agreed terms for a move to Oriel Park from K League side Suwon Samsung Bluewings but failure to secure a work permit having been just one appearance shy of the quota required scuppered a move for the 26-year-old who has since signed for Seoul E-Land in his homeland.
Now Dundalk have turned their sights to another of his countrymen.
It is understood that the man in question is Han Jeong Woo, a 22-year-old right winger who has been capped at both U-18 and U-22 level for his country.
He is a free agent having departed Suwon FC in January after helping them to promotion to the top flight after a runner-up finish in K League 2 last season.
The player is understood to be currently in Ireland with his agent so a deal could be completed this week.
Speaking to The Argus earlier in the year, sporting director Jim Magilton had spoke about expanding the brand in Asia.
“We’re looking to expose and expand the brand as far as possible but he’s also a good player,” he said of Eui-gwon.
“If we can attract players from that part of the world it means that the Dundalk FC brand gets more exposure, the league gets more exposure and it could then open opportunities for other players to come into the league and we know that Korean players bring a fantastic attitude and work ethic and they’re top, top people,” said Magilton.
A potential move for Jeong Woo may not be Dundalk’s only business this week either. As revealed in last week’s Argus, Central African Republic international midfielder Wilfried Zahibo is expected to sign upon his arrival from France and he could be joined by fellow French born defender Tom Gaston. The former Bordeaux player, who has been capped at U-19 level by Ireland, trained with Dundalk last week. Australian goalkeeper Patrick Beach is also on trial with the Lilywhites at present with Armagh GAA goalkeeper Niall Brady also training with the first team.
With Raivis Jurkovskis and Sonni Nattestad away on international duty for Friday night’s home game against Finn Harps and Brian Gartland struggling with an injury that saw him press pre-season, Gaston could also be fast-tracked into the side if he impresses.
Dundalk had been hoping that the Finn Harps game, which kicks off at 5.45pm on Friday, would be postponed due to international call-ups but the club only discovered last Tuesday morning that this would not be possible due to what team manager Shane Keegan described as “one of the strangest rules” he has seen.
Clubs can have games called off if two or more players are away on international duty but this only applies to call-ups for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
With goalkeeper Alessio Abibi also said to be on the fringes of the Albanian squad that could leave Dundalk without several key players for not only the Finn Harps match this weekend but also the trip to face Waterford on September 3rd, the home fixture with reigning champions Shamrock Rovers on October 8th and the Louth derby with neighbours Drogheda Utd in the penultimate game of the season on November 12th.
Keegan called for the rule to be revised ahead of next season.
“In fairness to the FAI, the explanation I got was that this is a rule set out in the participation agreement which is something technically agreed by the clubs. It’s very black and white so we can’t argue.
“There’s no room for manoeuvre there really.
“We have plenty of quality there and it’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t become an issue by others stepping up to the plate.
“I think it’s something that the clubs will need to look at before the start of next year.
“I suppose it was something that was agreed without much thought because we didn’t really have mass volumes of internationals from outside of the Republic. I don’t really understand what the thinking was behind it but the FAI’s argument is that it’s not our rule, it is the participation agreement which is something that you’re involved with coming up with.
“It seems a very, very strange one because Abibi could be called up too. He has been in the past and he’s going to be in with a chance of being called up so it seems a strange one and it’s going to make life a little bit more difficult on ourselves but look we have good strength in depth too so we just have to try and cope with it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Shamrock Rovers’ trip to face Derry City this weekend has been postponed after Candystripes goalkeeper Nathan Gartside was called into the Northern Ireland squad. Asked would it give Dundalk an advantage to be playing ahead of the meeting of the two sides next week in Tallaght on April 2nd, Keegan said: “It all depends on the result against Finn Harps.
“If we get a win next weekend and we have momentum heading into the Rovers game then it definitely works in our favour all right. That’s the only way I can look at it really that if you get the win you have that bit of momentum whereas they might be caught a little bit cold but these things are always looked at with revision in that the result will dictate everything.
“If we beat Rovers in that game and we’ve played the week before then everybody will say Rovers were a bit rusty because they hadn’t had a game the previous week whereas if they beat us people will say they had more energy because they hadn’t played the previous week so it’s going to be the same either way,” said Keegan.
Mick Fairclough’s near 39-year record as the last Dundalk player to be capped at international level is set to come to an end this week.
The Annagassan man – who won a league, FAI Cup and League Cup with Dundalk in the early 80s – remains the last from the club to win international honours while still at Oriel Park having come off the bench at the Arima Municipal Stadium for Brendan O’Callaghan in the 2-1 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago on May 30th 1982.
Nine days earlier he had his made his Republic of Ireland debut in a 1-0 defeat to Chile on Eoin Hand’s side’s ill-fated South American tour which included a 7-0 thumping by Brazil in which he didn’t feature.
Since then many ex-Dundalk players have received international recognition, with Daryl Horgan in Stephen Kenny’s plans for the World Cup Qualifiers with Serbia on Wednesday and Luxembourg on Saturday, as well as the friendly with Qatar next Tuesday. However, Raivis Jurkovskis and Sonni Nattestad’s inclusion in the Latvia and Faroe Islands squads mean they are set to become the 12th and 13th players to be capped while at Dundalk.
Jurkovskis will be hoping to add to his 13 caps when Latvia play World Cup Qualifiers at home to Montenegro on Wednesday before travelling to face the Netherlands on Saturday and Turkey on Tuesday.
Likewise, Nattestad will be expecting to add to his 31 caps for the Faroes when they take on Moldova on Thursday, Austria on Sunday and Scotland next Wednesday.
Should either or both play they will be the first to be capped at international level in a competitive game while at Dundalk since Turlough O’Connor and the late Tommy McConville were part of the Irish side which lost 6-0 to Austria in Vienna in a European Championship qualifier almost 50 years ago in October 1971.
Dundalk’s international caps so far are as follows: