Dundalk face being without Patrick McEleney for up to a month after the midfielder picked up a new injury in training last week.
The Derry man had faced the media last Wednesday ahead of Friday night’s game against Finn Harps – which the Lilywhites lost 2-1 – and had spoken about his desire for a run in the side after an injury-disrupted couple of seasons.
However, it is understood that the midfielder pulled a hamstring in training on Thursday which will rule him out of this Friday’s crunch match against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium (kick-off 7.45pm, live on RTÉ Two), as well as potentially several other games.
Speaking about his injury problems last week, McEleney said: “It’s been bad. It’s no secret that I had a bad year with injuries last year but I’ve come back really well and I’ve had nothing so I’ll be doing my best to stay injury free.”
Asked was there one injury he could trace his problems back to, he said: “I broke my foot in the first game against Sligo in 2019 and it was just one after another after that.
“When I came back from that I played about 20 odd games in a row and then in the FAI Cup semi final away to Sligo later in the year I slipped and tore my hamstring. It just seemed to be one thing after another. It was just so stop start.
“I did manage to play in most of the big games last year but if I can stay injury free, it will be so much better.”
The 28-year-old had also spoken of his desire to contend for the PFAI Player of the Year award last week having been runner-up to Seani Maguire in 2017.
“The year when I came second in the Player of the Year, I had one injury that season. The next year I had the Player of the Year award as a target but that’s when I had all of the breakdowns and injuries and it was the same the following year.
“It is one of my targets, though, and I know what I can do when I’m injury free. I’m my own biggest critic and I don’t doubt myself if I can say injury free.”
McEleney won’t be Dundalk’s only absentee against Rovers with Sean Murray and Ole Erik Midtskogen remaining sidelined and Sonni Nattestad – who became the first Dundalk player since Joey Donnelly in 1936 to score on international duty for the Faroe Islands in their 3-1 defeat to Austria in Vienna on Sunday – facing a two match ban for his red card in the President’s Cup final earlier this month.
Despite being away on international duty for Friday’s defeat to Finn Harps, Dundalk were dismayed to discover that the clash with the Donegal men wouldn’t count towards the defender’s ban so he will also miss the visit of Bohemians to Oriel Park on Friday week, April 9th.
Team manager Shane Keegan said: “I just can’t wrap my head around it. Surely it has to be one or the other. Either the game gets called off because of it or, if the game isn’t called off, then one of his suspension games gets used up. I just cannot wrap my head around it but it is what it is and there is no point whinging about it now.
“I don’t really have a problem with him missing the Shamrock Rovers game; the problem is with him missing the Bohs game the following week. That’s the real kick in the gut but you have to be careful what you say here.”
In better news for Dundalk, injured pair Daniel Kelly and Val Adedokun will hope to step up their return to first-team affairs this week while Brian Gartland could also come into contention having been an unused substitute against Finn Harps on Friday.
As exclusively revealed by The Argus Dundalk also completed a move for South Korean winger Han Jeong Woo last week with the 22-year-old making his debut by playing the final 10 minutes of the defeat to Finn Harps.
Keegan said he and Ryan O’Kane were the two positives to take from the defeat.
On O’Kane, the Laois man said: “I thought he was absolutely when he came on.”
Keegan said it hadn’t been his intention to use Han so soon but was pleased with his early promise.
“It was necessity. He’s had one collective training session and yet I think you saw why we’re kind of excited about him as well. By that stage we had McMillan and Hoban on the pitch so you’re looking to get as many crosses into the box and he’s got a sweet left foot. I thought he put in a couple of fantastic deliveries so there are positives there to take away but we need to build on them and we just need to find another three, four or five gears because it is in us.”
Keegan also admitted in his programme notes for Friday’s game that the club were hopeful of bringing in former Valencia midfielder Wilfried Zahibo but that deal is unlikely to be completed in time for him to face Rovers.
On the 27-year-old, he said: “With Wilfried, we’re pretty much there and now it’s just about trying to get everything boxed off.
“He is the complete central midfielder and he would give us a tremendous presence. Some players have brilliant technical ability but might not have the same physicality while some have tremendous physicality and aren’t quite as technical. Wilfried ticks both boxes and is the complete midfielder so hopefully we can get it finalised in the near future.”
Meanwhile, Dundalk last week announced two new commercial deals with local businesses RockSalt and XXI Ice coming on board as sponsors. RockSalt, who have outlets in Blackrock and Earl Street in Dundalk, are the club’s new official Good Food Partner while XXI Ice, who are based on Clanbrassil Street, have become the official Premium Hand Rolled Ice Cream partner.