Dundalk are hopeful of adding two further signings to their squad this week ahead of the new campaign which gets underway next month.
To date head coach Filippo Giovagnoli has brought in goalkeeper Alessio Abibi, defenders Sonni Nattestad and Raivis Jurkovskis, midfielder Sam Stanton and forward Ole Erik Midtskogen to add to his ranks over the off season but the Italian is confident of adding at least a couple more before the transfer deadline next Monday February 22nd.
The Argus understands that a winger and goalkeeper are amongst the main targets with interest renewed in former Derry City and Sligo Rovers star Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe.
The 26-year-old was top scorer in the league in 2019 and has had a good record against the Lilywhites in his season-and-a-half in the SSE Airtricity League having scored three times against his potential new employers, including the third goal in Sligo’s 3-1 win over Dundalk at The Showgrounds last summer.
It is also believed that the club are hopeful of securing a goalkeeper on a loan from a Championship club in England with 23-year-old Barnsley goalkeeper Corey Addai, who stands at a massive 6ft 7in in height, the prime target. Meanwhile a contract could also be given to 2014 title winner Peter Cherrie, who has been training with the club following his release by Derry City at the end of last season.
While free agents can be signed after next Monday’s deadline, anyone in contract with a club needs to have their move completed before then.
While he refused to be drawn on the players or their positions, Giovagnoli confirmed to The Argus on Sunday evening that he was hopeful of new arrivals to Oriel Park this week.
“We are looking to have a couple of signings this week. We’re working on it. It could be in one day or two days. We’re going to have news but not yet.
“We need to complete the team. We are close to completing the team. It’s not over yet but we want to make the right decisions.”
Aside from the potential new arrivals, Dundalk remain hopeful of securing a work permit to sign South Korean winger Han Eui-gwon.
The 26-year-old was one game shy of the 25% quota of games he was required to play in for former club Suwon Samsung Bluewings last season but as the K League season was curtailed due to Covid-19, Dundalk are arguing that the “most recent full season” – in which he played 76% of his club’s matches – should apply.
Giovagnoli said he did not have an update on how that deal was proceeding but remained hopeful of securing the services of the winger.
“I really don’t know because it’s the club that is dealing with this so it’s more a question for Jim (Magilton) and Bill (Hulsizer) because they are dealing with this,” said Filippo.
“I just feel that it’s a shame that a player like that could miss out on a move here. It would be great to have him in the league. It would be good for Dundalk but it would also be good for the league.
“I think the rules should be interpreted to deal with these moments because maybe he would have completed his 25% if they had played all year. The only reason he didn’t play was because he didn’t sign a contract because he was in a little bit of a fight with the club to leave but it is what it is.
“There are rules but rules should be interpreted well in this case because of Covid but let’s see. Maybe it’s going to end well but, if not, we have to look to something else.”
One player who departed Oriel Park last week is young winger Jamie Wynne. The club had been hopeful of retaining the 19-year-old, who made his league and European debut under Giovagnoli last season, but he has instead signed for Cork City.
Asked about the Malahide youngster, Giovagnoli said: “He was in pre-season with us and we said to him let’s see how it goes and we’ll talk about your future. I wanted to see him in pre-season with the team because of course Dundalk is a strong team. It’s one of the strongest in the league so finding space is not easy but then he decided with his agent to leave.
“I respect that if he feels it is the right opportunity but I just hope he is going to play. I wish the best for him because he is a really nice kid and a really hard worker.”
Meanwhile, another Dundalk youngster – Meathman Andrew Quinn – is also set to depart Oriel Park on loan with a move to Bray Wanderers expected to ensure the defender receives some vital experience this season. Will Patching will also join Derry City on loan.
Alessio Abibi will wear the number one jersey for Dundalk this season but has not been guaranteed the starting position by head coach Filippo Giovagnoli.
The Albanian is currently the only goalkeeper on the books at Oriel Park following the retirement of Gary Rogers and departures of Aaron McCarey and Jimmy Corcoran at the end of last season.
However, The Argus understands that two new goalkeepers could be signed this week.
One of those is likely to be a loan signing of a player from a Championship club in England with the Lilywhites understood to be closing in on a deal to bring over 6ft 7in goalkeeper Corey Addai from Barnsley.
Dundalk are also expected to hand a deal to one of the two out of contract goalkeepers who are training with them at present.
Former Huddersfield Town, Galway Utd and Cork City netminder Tadhg Ryan, who was at Waterford last season and 2014 title winner Peter Cherrie, who was released by Derry City at the end of last season, have been taking part in pre-season at Oriel Park in recent days.
While Ryan is the younger option at just 23, 37-year-old Cherrie is thought to be ahead of him in the pecking order for a contract at present.
The Scot – who still lives locally – made 237 appearances for Dundalk between 2009 and 2014 having arrived from Clyde. Since departing Oriel Park, Cherrie has played with Cliftonville, Bray Wanderers, Cork City and Derry City but could now be set for an emotional return back to a club where he was hugely popular amongst fans in the early part of the last decade.
Asked about the two trialists, Giovagnoli said: “They are doing well. We are probably going to decide this week what to do with them.
“They’re doing well. They’re good people and good players. They’re working hard and we like them both. We’re going to decide this week but I’m happy with what I see from them. They’re really good players.”
Asked would Abibi be his number one at the start of the season, the Italian didn’t give a firm commitment that he would be.
He said: “With a coach like me, I’ll play who deserves to play. The pitch is going to talk. We have to do the best for the club.
“If Alessio is the number one it’s because he is the best at the moment or it’s going to be another goalkeeper. That’s not a problem. Let’s see who is going to be the other two goalkeepers and then they’re going to fight for the spot, like all the other players.”
Despite this, Giovagnoli dismissed rumours which spread via social media last week suggesting Abibi had failed to settle in Ireland and had already departed just a month after his arrival.
“I don’t even know what the rumour is but Alessio is doing really well and he’s happy,” said the coach.
“He’s a really strong, modern goalkeeper. He’s a big size, really aggressive and he is something that is just different than the profiles that are here in Ireland. We are really happy with him. He is doing well and he’s working hard. He’s a really hard worker.
“Alessio is going to do really well,” he said.
One goalkeeper who did depart last week was American underage international Alex Rando, who opted to return Stateside to pursue a scholarship rather than accept an offer at Oriel Park.
On the player he had worked with in New York, Giovagnoli said: “Alex is a really good goalkeeper. He came and we were going to offer him a contract but he had this thing with his college and he spoke with his family and in the end they decided it would be better to go back to the college.
“For American players sometimes this is the decision they have to make and we respect that. It’s fine. We’re going to get other goalkeepers with competitive profiles, there’s no problem.”
Dundalk head coach Filippo Giovagnoli is hoping his side’s new recruits give the team an element of surprise in the early weeks of the season.
While most of the new additions to squads across the league this winter are well known here, there is most certainly an unknown element to Dundalk’s five new recruits to date: goalkeeper Alessio Abibi, defenders Sonni Nattestad and Raivis Jurkovskis, midfielder Sam Stanton and forward Ole Erik Midtskogen.
“This is beautiful for the league,” said Giovagnoli.
“Here in every game you know what to expect so now maybe you won’t know what to expect and that’s nice. I think it’s important.”
While traditionally slow starters over the years, Giovagnoli is hoping his side can hit the ground running as they attempt to wrestle the title back from Shamrock Rovers.
“We don’t want to start slow, we want to start strong. We want to make a statement right away. We’re going to be really aggressive from the beginning. I’ve no doubt on that. We are working for that.
“I think if we have our best team on the pitch then we’re going to be really strong. I hope to have headaches every weekend and I think I will because even with the new players that we’re going to sign we will have almost two players for every position so then they have to fight for their position.”
Dundalk face a difficult start to the new season with games against three of last year’s top four in their opening four league matches but Giovagnoli is confident his side will be ready for the challenge.
“In this league I don’t think there are any easy games. Whether you play someone in the third game or sixth game, it’s not going to change much.
“We just need to be ready and healthy and fit for the start of the league and we’re going to be. We just need to recover the players that are injured and then we’ll be okay because our team is strong.”
The Italian is also keen to see how Shamrock Rovers look this season having lost Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff to APOEL and Hearts over the winter.
“Shamrock will be a different team from last year because without Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff it’s going to be a different team. They cannot be the same.
“Nobody is going to be the same but of course if you replace a player with a player that you know then at least you know their individual characteristics but the way that they play is going to be different for sure. The style will change for sure but let’s see how they look. I’m curious because I’m a student of the game and I like this kind of challenge,” he said.
Dundalk will travel to the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium next Tuesday February 23rd for the first of their pre-season friendly fixtures against Derry City.
The match with Declan Devine’s side is the first of three in the pipeline for Filippo Giovagnoli’s side ahead of the new campaign with a trip to United Park to face Drogheda Utd in the Jim Malone Cup and the visit of Bohemians to Oriel Park also on the agenda. Exact dates and times for those matches had yet to be officially confirmed at the time of going to press.
Those three matches, as well as the President’s Cup final against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium on Friday March 12th, could be the only games the side plays before the new league season kicks-off against Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds on Saturday March 20th.
“They’ll be the three games before the President’s Cup,” said Giovagnoli.
While looking forward to getting his side back on the pitch, the Italian said he was unsure at this stage how many first-team players would be ready to face the Candystripes next week.
“Derry will be just the first approach to giving minutes to some of the players because I’m not going to have many players available for this game but it doesn’t matter. We’ll play some of the younger players as well and some of them could surprise us.
“We want to be challenged. We have to be use to playing strong teams so those games are going to be really good for us.”
Asked would he be treating the President’s Cup match as a friendly, Giovagnoli said: “Not really, for us it’s a Cup and we want to win.”
With continued doubts over the WatchLOI service for the forthcoming season, Dundalk are understood to be exploring the possibility of streaming their own matches with a trial possible during the pre-season games.
Dundalk head coach Filippo Giovagnoli is hopeful of having a full squad available for the start of the season next month.
At present up to half a dozen key players have yet to train with the rest of the squad due to injuries of varying scale.
However, speaking to The Argus on Sunday, Giovagnoli said he was confident almost all would have a good chance of being back either for the President’s Cup tie with Shamrock Rovers on March 12th or the league opener away to Sligo Rovers eight days later.
He said: “We have injuries that we’ve carried over from last year with Pat Hoban, Sean Murray and Daniel Kelly and even Mickey Duffy has something from last year.
“They are the ones that we have to observe more right now to make sure we have them back in March.
“Then we have a few minor injuries like Brian Gartland and Patrick McEleney but they’re really minor injuries and it should just be a matter of a few days.
“The four that I mentioned are the ones that are going to take a little bit longer but still I think I’m going to have them available for the President’s Cup or at least the first game.
“They are progressing a lot but we’re not going to push them or risk anything but I think by the middle of March we’re going to be in a different position.”
The Italian said that, despite those six absentees, pre-season training had gone well so far with the club’s five new signings all settling in well.
“They have completely confirmed the idea that I had about them,” he said of the new arrivals.
“They are doing well and they have a lot of potential. They’ve shown already their potential. They’re going to do well in this league and they’ve come here really motivated to do well. They are young players and I think that they can build a good future in Dundalk. They’re going to perform.
“I’m happy about all the new players. All of them are really good. We lost some players but we’ve replaced them with really good quality. To be honest, I’m really, really happy and this is just the start for them,” he said.
Filippo Giovagnoli says his backroom team is now complete following the appointments of new goalkeeping coach Graham Byas and new club doctor Dualtach Mac Colgáin by the club last week.
As first revealed by The Argus a week ago, Byas comes in to replace Steve Williams as goalkeeping coach having most recently worked with Shamrock Rovers II and the Rovers academy sides at Roadstone.
Mac Colgáin, who holds a BSc and an MSc in Sports Medicine, has worked with the Meath GAA senior team for the past couple of seasons and replaces David Connolly who stepped down from the role last month.
The arrival of Byas was particularly welcome given the club had struggled to identify a UEFA A licensed goalkeeping coach in recent months, something which is a requirement for licensing purposes.
Speaking about the Dubliner, who has also worked with Longford Town, St Patrick’s Athletic and the Irish amputee and cerebral palsy squads, Giovagnoli said: “We interviewed a few profiles and Graham was the one that hit more of our objectives.
“We were happy with the way that he was proposing his job and the way that he can see the goalkeepers and how he wants to develop them. He has a good structure in his job. He is organised and it was a good pick for us. He is doing really well and we’re happy with what we’ve seen up until now.”
He added: “With the staff we are complete so we’ve not got a problem any more now that the doctor is in.
“We’re in a good spot now. We are working on some ideas already among our staff on how to use them as best we can but we are almost there.”
Shane Keegan, who will now have the title of Team Operations Manager, will continue to provide opposition analysis for the foreseeable future with clubs unable to travel to games.
Another new addition over the off season is sports scientist Lorcan Mason, who also joined from Shamrock Rovers.
On the 23-year-old, Giovagnoli said: “He’s a very good guy and a really hard worker. We really like him. He’s a really good person and a very good professional. He’s a perfectionist and the work that he is doing together with Graham Norton is a big, big thing.”