Dundalk FC first team coach John Gill believes there is a lot to look forward to at Oriel Park as the Lilywhites prepare to play their first game in more than four months this Friday.
Vinny Perth’s side will welcome Derry City to the Carrick Road venue for the first of a series of friendlies to help prepare the side for the now confirmed return of the league on July 31st. The 4pm kick-off will be played behind closed doors but is expected to be streamed live via YouTube. Bohemians will also visit Oriel Park on Tuesday for the second of the games.
After five weeks back in training, Gill said he was looking forward to helping to prepare the side for a game having not done so since the 4-0 win away to Finn Harps on March 6th.
“It’ll be a good test for us,” he said of the Derry game.
“They gave us problems last year and they’re always competitive games against them. They’ve a good squad as well so it’s going to be a good test.
“We’ve a few other friendlies lined up for after that that just need to be confirmed.
“Teams are kind of nervous about travelling but we’ve Derry on Friday and then we’ve three or four others that just have to be confirmed this week between time and venues but we will definitely have four or five games before we get back into the cut and thrust of the league.”
The Dundalk squad played an 11 v 11 training game last Friday which the ‘home side’ won 1-0 courtesy of a late goal from substitute Lido Lotefa. Gill was pleased with the standard on show.
“Both 11s that we put out on Friday, both of them would challenge, that’s how high the quality was.
“There were some really great passages of play in the game and it was exciting to see some of the new lads who are bedded in now – the likes of Nathan Oduwa, Stefan Colovic, Will Patching and even Josh Gatt who came on for 30 minutes and looked really good.
“They’re new to the group but you could see on Friday the undoubted quality that they have so that was good and it means we’re in a good place.”
Sean Hoare and Patrick McEleney sat out the game with minor niggles while Aaron McCarey was also unavailable as his wife gave birth to baby boy Harry at the weekend. Irish underage international goalkeeper Jimmy Corcoran, who is training with the squad at present following his recent release from Preston North End, took his place in the ‘away’ goal.
Dundalk can now begin preparing officially for the return of the league on July 31st but, while happy to have football on the way back, Gill said he was disappointed it would be just for a further 13 matches.
“Personally speaking, I don’t like it,” he said.
“Obviously we’re bowing to democracy because it’s what most teams wanted but if you’re telling me we couldn’t have extended the season until the end of November or first week of December and got in an extra round of games, I think that would have been more tangible and credible but it is what it is. We’ll get on with it but I’m just glad that relegation is there because I think we would have had a lot of meaningless games if there wasn’t a sanction for not performing.
“What it does now is that it puts a lot of so-called big teams in a very precarious position but that’s not our worry. We’ve got to worry about ourselves and that’s what we’ll do. We’ll worry about the league and we’ll also focus on Europe so we’ve got a lot to look forward to.”
Gill admitted it would be hard to keep players happy with regard to game time given there was so few games on the horizon.
“It’s going to be hard, there’s no doubt, but as I said to the group aren’t you better being here than somewhere else.
“Our club has handled the whole pandemic magnificently. I think they’ve led from the front. Our owners have been absolutely magnificent and the players haven’t wanted for anything. We haven’t suffered any setbacks and that’s a credit to the owners.
“You could be somewhere else where you might be a regular every week but you’ve also got a family to look after and provide for. For me, you’re better being here fighting for a position.
“Okay, the league format is not going to help us but everyone here has a chance of putting their hand up and getting into the team. It’ll be based on performances in training and the one good thing about this squad is that the competition in training has been frightening.
“I just hope our supporters will be able to get back. I don’t know what the timeframe is for allowing supporters back into grounds but it’s important for us and them that they get to see what we’ve assembled,” said Gill.