Dundalk boss Shane Keegan feels his side couldn’t have asked for a much tougher start to the season than the one the fixture computer has thrown up.
After Saturday’s trip to face a Sligo Rovers side who were the most in-form side apart from Shamrock Rovers after the league resumed after its Covid-19 enforced break last summer, the Lilywhites are set to face a Finn Harps side who also finished last season in impressive fashion.
After that is a return trip to Tallaght to face the champions on April 2nd followed by the visit of last season’s runners-up Bohemians to Oriel Park on April 9th. This will be followed by three further games in quick succession at home to St Patrick’s Athletic on April 16th, away to Derry City on April 19th and at home to Drogheda on April 23rd.
For a side who traditionally start slow, on paper at least the start to the season couldn’t be much tougher.
“It’s about as tough as you could ask for as a start because you’re playing all the rest of the top half of the table teams pretty much straight off the bat,” said Keegan as he looked ahead to the start of the season this weekend.
“It’s definitely as tough as it gets not only in terms of the opposition but if you look at April and, particularly if the Harps game gets pulled and re-fixed, there’s already a date in the calendar for when it could get put back in and that’s April 13th I think which would then mean that we would end up having seven games in the month of April which would be a really tough test so early in the season to be cramming in that many games.
“Looking at it from a physiological point of view, you’d like the bodies to be a little bit more wintered before they have to go through that amount of games but at the same time if we can get everybody back fit, which we are working towards, we do have pretty good strength in depth and you’d hope you’d be able to cope with it in that sense.”
First up for Dundalk is a Sligo side who, despite losing last season’s top scorer Ronan Coughlan to St Patrick’s Athletic, have strengthened with the acquisitions of Greg Bolger, Colm Horgan, Jordan Gibson, Walter Figueira, Robbie McCourt and Romeo Parkes to name but a few with local youngster Johnny Kenny also proving majorly impressive in pre-season.
Speaking about Liam Buckley’s men, Keegan said he feels they’re not an opponent who can be taken lightly.
“They’re a decent side,” he said.
“They’ll have to have expectations of doing very well this season. I’ve watched them once or twice already in pre-season and they’re very well balanced. They’re starting to look more and more like a Liam Buckley side.
“I think the second half of last season was the first time you’d have looked at them and started to see his imprint on them. What I’ve seen in pre-season they look even more like a Liam Buckley side now than they ever did.
“I think Greg Bolger’s recruitment is probably the key one in that sense. Colm Horgan has gone in there as well. I had Colm at Galway and he’s another fella who is very comfortable on the ball. I think they’ll be a team who will try and have as much a monopoly on the ball as possible. They’ll be really steady.
“No more than any of us because we’ve lost players and Rovers have lost players but the big one for Sligo is how they cope with not having Ronan Coughlan because he did have a very, very good year for them last year, there’s no doubt.
“It’s between Romeo Parkes and John Kenny to fill that void and obviously John Kenny, in particular, has set things alight in pre-season. If they manage to get that part of it right they’ll be a great side.
“I think in the first two thirds of the field they’ll be as good as anything around but if they manage to get the final third right as well then they’ll be a serious outfit,” said Keegan.