Like the three wise men, Gary Rogers, Brian Gartland and Dane Massey used to sit beside each other in the corner of the Dundalk dressing room on a daily basis getting ready for training each day.
The retirement of Rogers, coupled with Massey’s departure for Drogheda Utd, means that Gartland will be a bit of a lone wolf – at least initially – when he reports back for pre-season training at the end of the month.
It’s not just those two have gone. Long-term colleagues such as Sean Gannon, Sean Hoare, John Mountney and even Aaron McCarey, who he had originally played with at Monaghan Utd, have also departed Oriel Park during the off-season.
By his own admission, Gartland said it will be a bit strange to be back at Oriel Park without some familiar faces but he has backed Filippo Giovagnoli to bring in the appropriate replacements to ensure Dundalk remain as competitive as ever next season.
“It’s going to be different for me because I sit between Massey and Rogie ever since we got the new dressing rooms there a couple of years ago,” said the defender.
“The three of us were always in the corner and I think there was about 100 years between us so we used to have a laugh at that. I’d be really close to them and they’d be really good friends, as would John Mountney, Sean Gannon, Robbie Benson who left last year, Sean Hoare and Aaron McCarey is another who I got on really well with as well.
“There are plenty of others but we’ve been together years and there are just so many great memories with them all in terms of what we did at the club.
“The fact they’ve gone, it’s football and you just have to get on with it. It’s part and parcel of the game and you can’t change it but it’s sad to see them go because, like I said, they’re my friends and I’ll be eternally grateful for what those lads did.
“They’re friends and team-mates and we’ve had great experiences but you’re also only as good as the players around you so every player who has been there in my time and especially these sort of guys I’ll be eternally grateful for what they helped both me and the club achieve.
“They’ve been phenomenal with their drive, their attitude and their dedication. I don’t think people realise the dedication it takes because everything else in your life is put on hold for what we try to do. You’re only as good as the players around you and I wouldn’t have had all the success or experiences without them. I’ve friends for life there.
“There’s always one or two who leave every year, that’s the nature of football, but there’s probably more than usual this year,” he said.
Gartland said he didn’t know much about the club’s new signings to date but insisted he had every faith in the club to bring in top players.
“You probably know more than me about them than me but I think you just have to have faith in your club and the people making these decisions that they’re bringing in the right people and I have that faith.
“We know the quality will be there and I’m sure they’ve checked into the character as well because it’s a massive thing to make it in this league. I’ve not looked into them too much because you can judge a player on a few highlights and they could be unbelievable highlights and they could just be an average player.
“I’ve seen people write us off already because they automatically presume we’re weaker but that just gives us more motivation. We’ve a good core there of 14 or 15 and then you’ve got all the lads coming in with international experience who can give you something different.
“It’s different and sometimes people are afraid of change because they don’t know what it is but we showed last year with the new manager coming in that we’re adaptable to change and we’re not afraid of it.”
It’ll be changed times for Gartland this year, that’s for sure, but while many faces will have changed, he is confident the success he has enjoyed for each of the last seven seasons at Oriel Park will continue in 2021.