Having been denied a new club record twice by the crossbar in Athlone on Sunday, Dundalk striker David McMillan is hoping he can get the job done in Sunday’s FAI Cup final against Shamrock Rovers.
Just as he managed in 2017, the striker’s double took him to five FAI Cup goals for the season. This equaled the return of most Cup goals in a single season for the club as held by Gerry McCourt (1930–31); Ronnie Henderson (1948–49) Joe Martin (1951–52), Johnny Fearon (1951–52) and Garry Haylock (2001-02).
Already the holder of the club’s record for most goals in Europe, the 31-year-old would love to be attributed with another landmark but is hopeful of doing it in the final with what would be his first goal at the Aviva Stadium.
“Hopefully I’m saving it for the final,” he said.
“I’ve played in a few finals and haven’t scored. I don’t think I’ve scored in the Aviva either so that’s something I would like to change. It’s either on Sunday or against Arsenal so hopefully it will be Sunday.”
McMillan said it was a superb achievement for the club to have made its sixth successive final and is hoping they can go one better than last season by lifting the trophy at the end.
“I was watching the game last year in Scotland and I remember jumping up and down when Mickey (Duffy) equalised.
“It was a tough one to lose on penalties. Now everyone will be chomping at the bit to get that Cup back. It’s a huge achievement by the players who have been here all along. To be in the sixth final in-a-row is incredible. Now we want to go win it.”
The striker is well aware too that clinching silverware can change the narrative of the season massively.
“I think we’ve said that. The league campaign was disappointing. We at least acheived Europe in that but the year can still be a success if we go and win the Cup and try to build on the success of qualifying for the group stages,” he said.
Patrick McEleney is a man playing with a new lease of life at the moment.
Having missed last year’s FAI Cup final through injury, he thought his season had been ended prematurely again when he suffered a groin injury in the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates.
However the 28-year-old made impressive cameo displays off the bench in the FAI Cup win over Bohemians and last Thursday’s 3-1 Europa League defeat to Rapid Wien before following it up with a man of the match display in just his third 90th minute match of the season away to Athlone on Thursday.
Having not scored since August 2019 or assisted since September 2019, the Derry man was in superb form as he made four goals and scored another as Dundalk claimed a record breaking victory over the Midlanders.
Speaking to The Argus afterwards, McEleney admitted he was thriving from just being free from injury at last.
“I think that’s what it is,” he said.
“I’m just happy to be out there to be honest. It might sound a bit stupid to say but it’s genuinely as simple as that.
“It has been really stop start for me as everybody knows so to get a goal and a few assists is great.
“I was happy to get through another game tonight and I’m hoping to kick on now for the final three games of the season,’ he said.
Now McEleney is hoping to make up for the disappointment of missing last year’s FAI Cup final where he could only look on helplessly as Dundalk lost to Shamrock Rovers 4-2 on penalties.
“I think it’s the final that everyone wants,” he said.
“Missing the final last year, it doesn’t go away in your mind and I’m sure it’s the same for Chris Shields as well. Just hopefully everything goes well now and we can look forward to it.”
While McEleney had sympathy for Athlone, he felt that kind of performance had been coming from Dundalk.
“It was a good result. A lot of boys scored and everyone is playing for places and I think that’s why we did so well.
“I think that sort of result was coming. They’re a young side and obviously a First Division team but I think we had been threatening it. Even in the European games we have been creating a lot of chances. It was good to get a lot of confidence from the boys putting the ball in the net.
“We have to shoot for something and the Cup is it. There’s a lot of pride to play for and places in the final so we’ll be ready for it,” he said.
A new range of Dundalk FC training and leisurewear will launch with the opening of the new club shop at the North Link Retail Park this Friday.
While exact details of the launch are set to be confirmed by the club this week, the new shop will be located in the Moran CCTV premises.
A full range of new gear from Umbro will be available with the launch of the club’s new away kit set to take place in mid-December. The new home jersey for 2021 will not be available until the New Year.
Asked about the new merchandise ahead of Sunday’s FAI Cup semi-final win over Athlone Town, the club’s Chief Business Officer David Minto said: “It’s coming this week. We’re waiting on the stock to arrive but we’re hoping to open the new club shop on Friday with a full range of training and leisurewear.
“We’ve seen the samples and they look really good and we’ll have plenty of sizes and plenty of products available.”
David said the new shop at the retail park would allow for social distancing to take place better than at the existing shop at Oriel Park.
“We’ve done a deal with Peter Moran. He has been very gracious with us and given us a premises for a couple of months as part of a bigger deal that we hope to do with him next season. We’re very grateful to Peter and Richie for the opportunity to use the premises.
“The reason we got the shop was because it’s a huge shop and we’re able to socially distance customers. We can get plenty of people in but still have them safe,” he said.
Asked what Christmas shoppers could expect, Minto said: “There’ll be new jackets, new training wear, new quarter zips, new polo shirts, new tracksuit bottoms, a new jacket. A full range basically. We’ve gone for a slightly different colour as well which I think the supporters will love.
“Hopefully the away jersey will follow in mid-December but we’ll make a big announcement on the jersey very shortly,” he said.
Dundalk FC owners PEAK6 had drawn up plans to upgrade Oriel Park prior to the lockdown of the country due to Covid-19.
While the plans did not meet board approval, chairman Bill Hulsizer revealed that work has been ongoing behind the scenes looking at options to improve the heavily criticised Carrick Road venue.
“That’s high up on the list,” Bill said, when asked where the stadium stood in his plans for the club’s future.
“Our commitment is long term. We’re trying to do some things for Co Louth and Dundalk town and hopefully after this virus is settled, we’ll get on with it.
“We had to put them on hold for a couple of reasons, none of which are really financial, but the man in charge of it had a personal issue and I made the decision to put that on hold while he had something to take care of. We’re now moving slowly because quite frankly we don’t know what the future holds or what is going to happen with Covid-19.
“At the moment everybody has to have a wait and see attitude.
“Do I think Oriel Park can be improved? Oh, absolutely. We’ve had designs done. They weren’t exactly what we needed and they weren’t presented the way we wanted but it was a good start. We have a committee that is actively looking into it.
“More than that, I can’t say much because everything is on hold right now but my desire is to have boys and girls from 12 down to six playing on those three pitches in the Lilywhite Development Centre. That’s not what we call it now but maybe we’ll rename it.
“It gives them something to do and it’s inside so they could play all winter long. We just have to do the detail but we’ve talked to the council and we will get it done,” he said.
As well as improving the ground, Bill also hinted at another facility which would cater for an improved youth structure at the club.
“We’d like to improve the capacity and we’d like to improve our commitment to youth,” he said.
“We have three indoor pitches inside in the YDC and we should have every young man and woman in there every weekend playing football. We’re looking to develop all of those things.
“We’re on the border with Northern Ireland and we’ve tried to promote a bunch of cross border things. We have a schoolboys’ league in Dundalk and I don’t think there’s enough connection with Dundalk FC. I think we’ve got better at it and we’ll get better still.
“There are lots of issues. We have four official teams in our underage group but I’d hope that by this time next year we’d have eight because the jump between U-13 and U-15 is a big jump. There are 14-year-olds that are men and 15-year-olds that are still boys and that’s a crucial time so if we can spend the money and make that gap more narrow then it can only be a good thing.”
Hulsizer said he was “flabbergasted” at the fact there were no municipal pitches in the Dundalk area.
“I live in a small town outside of Fort Lauderdale. I don’t know what the population is but we have at least 12 municipal pitches in my little town and Americans don’t play soccer apparently. Now that’s the past and it’s changing. I’m told more Americans are playing soccer now in Texas than football.
“If we want to develop football here then we should have places for the kids to play. If we wanted to have a schoolboy tournament with teams from Warrenpoint and Newry and other nearby areas, where would they play? We need more fields.
“We’re working on it and hopefully the county and the people will say ‘let’s do this’. I’d like to see Dundalk to be the centre of football in all of Ireland at every level. I’m a dreamer but I always say that if you’re going to dream, you may as well dream big.”
Asked would this be at Oriel Park, Hulsizer suggested it could be an additional venue.
“We don’t have enough time to have that kind of an event at Oriel Park. Oriel Park is used almost non-stop so there would need to be other places where the kids could play.
“Let’s say we took every club team within 25 mile between Drogheda, Newry, Warrenpoint etc. Let’s say that’s 30 clubs and we’re going to have a tournament involving them all. To play that over a three day weekend, how many pitches would you need? I’ve never organised one but I’ve been to many and my feeling is we don’t have enough pitches to do that.
“I worry sometimes too that, if we built them, would the kids use them?”
The 77-year-old said he was well aware there would be critics of his plans but said he was looking purely for an outsiders’ perspective at what he believed could be achieved.
“You need to give me a little slack because I don’t look at Dundalk like someone who grew up in Ireland. I have no pre-conceived notions of what it should be. I have only the background of being around the whole world and growing up in America with an Irish mom so I guess I’m the sum of all those inputs and I see things that maybe someone who walks down the streets of Dundalk every day doesn’t see but I love the town, I love the people, I love the team and I love football and the rest is to be determined.”
Bill Hulsizer has given a strong vote of confidence to Vinny Perth for the job he has done in managing Dundalk FC and hinted that a new contract could be forthcoming for the 43-year-old in the not-too-distant future.
After taking over from Stephen Kenny at the start of last season, Perth guided the club to the league and EA Sports Cup last season, only missing out on an historic treble only after losing to Shamrock Rovers on penalties in last November’s FAI Cup final.
PEAK6 have continued to back Perth with Serbian Stefan Colovic and Englishman Nathan Oduwa signed just before the league was halted back in March.
However, with Perth’s contract up at the end of this season, a new deal will have to be negotiated if the Dubliner is to extend his current spell at the club into a ninth year in 2021.
Asked was Perth the man to continue to lead the team into the future, Hulsizer said: “As long as he wants to be here we’re happy to have him but as soon as he wins the Champions League I’m sure one of the clubs in the Premier League will offer him a few million dollars to come and run their team.
“Then again if he wins the Champions League I might give him a couple of million dollars to stay,” laughed Bill.
“I’m an owner so I’ll say that football wages for coaches are running away but I’m sure everybody on the other side is saying we’re not getting enough and you know what? Neither of us are wrong, we’re just on different sides of the fence but somehow we manage to get along.
“I’m fortunate that I have a great coach, who is also a great humanitarian. He cares about his players, not because they’re earning him a pay cheque but because they’re good people and I think that goes from the apex of the team to the guy on the bottom of the totem pole and believe me, the guy at the bottom is just as important to me as the guy at the apex.”
“Youmay say I’m a dreamer “But I’m not the only one “I hope some day you’ll join us “And the world will live as one.”
Imagine, John Lennon
Bill Hulsizer doesn’t stutter or bat an eyelid when he says he wants Dundalk FC to win the Champions League.
To most people that may seem a laughable prospect but to the club chairman, it’s part and parcel of dreaming big.
Shoot for the moon and you might not get there but you may reach the stars.
It’s not that long ago that Dundalk’s biggest ambitions were seeing another week, month or season. These days the ambitions are much more lofty and while no one who attends Oriel Park expects to see the modern day European Cup residing on the Carrick Road any time soon, the challenge of trying to do that certainly won’t be dull.
By his own admission, Bill dreams big but he makes no apologies for it.
So much has been made about PEAK6’s apparent focus on European success since they took over the running of the club from Paul Brown and Andy Connolly at the start of 2018 but while the process of qualifying for the group stages in Europe has got more difficult from when Dundalk achieved it four years ago, Bill maintains the belief that the club can get back there in the years to come.
When the fact another round now had to be negotiated compared to the club’s qualifier success of 2016, the club chairman said: “I really don’t care.
“My goal – and it’s what I’ve told the players and coaches – is to win the Champions League.
“Now if they don’t, is everybody going to get fired? Of course not but if you’re going to do something then the first thing you have to do is believe in it.
“Last year we got to the second round of the Champions League and then played Slovan Bratislava, who I thought we outplayed at times but their goalie was incredible. He probably should have been taken by a club in a better league than he’s in right now but that’s not my job but I can tell you that I wouldn’t apologise to anyone for the way my guys played.
“If you run up against a hot goalie, that’s what happens. Luck is a big part of the game. You can hit the inside of the post and the ball can come out or you can hit the inside of the post and it can go in and quite often than can decide your fortunes but what’s wrong with ambition?
“If I said to you what would you have bet that Iceland would make it to the finals of the World Cup? That would probably have been a better bet than Leicester City winning the Premier League, which was 5,000/1.”
While Champions League ambitions are indeed lofty, a more realistic aim is for Dundalk to become the club youngsters support throughout the country – regardless of where they’re located geographically.
“When kids in Galway say who’s the best club in Ireland, I want them to say Dundalk.
“Kids all over America rooted for the Yankees and it didn’t matter if they had a baseball team in their town or not. A lot of towns in Ireland don’t have a team so who do they root for? My goal is to have every 13-year-old tell his parents that he wants to play for Dundalk and Ireland and I hope I can get there. I don’t want to hear them saying they want to play for Manchester City.
“I’d like Dundalk to be the goal for every kid in Ireland and I’d like to be over to support that and for them to know that if you get here you can go anywhere in the world but I’m a bit of a dreamer. They’re free but at the same time if you don’t set your targets high enough then it’s probably not as much fun living.”
It’s hard to imagine the Bill Hulsizer era at Oriel Park being dull, that’s for sure.