Dundalk opened up a five point lead at the top of the SSE Airtricity League table at the weekend but head coach Vinny Perth insists his side still have work to do.
The Lilywhites’ 3-0 win away to Finn Harps, coupled with Shamrock Rovers blowing a two-goal lead at home to Derry City, means the champions are guaranteed to be on top of the table when they meet Stephen Bradley’s side in their next match at Tallaght Stadium on Friday June 28th.
With Dundalk out of action this weekend due to their game against UCD being postponed due to the Toulon Tournament, Rovers will have a chance to close the gap to two points if they can end their recent hoodoo against Bohemians at Dalymount Park on Friday night.
While Dundalk are idle, Perth says the next week will be far from a holiday and he encouraged his side to put the head down this week to bring their game to the “next level” after the break.
After last weekend the omens are good that Dundalk can retain their title. They now sit on 49 points after 21 matches, the same return as they had in 2018, 2016 and 2014 when they won the title.
When that was put to him, Perth said there was plenty of work still to be done to ensure that streak continues.
“I’m happy to hear that omen but at the same time I’ve always coached over the last seven years week on week and all my focus now is switched to our next match which is unfortunately a bit away.
“I think we’ve got a two-week window here where the players have to really focus on going up to the next level from a fitness point of view and we can also work on our technical play on the training ground and being a little bit more dynamic in the final third.
“Europe will start then very soon so this is an opportunity for us to do a bit of work towards Europe and obviously focus on the next league match. We’ll be coming back after a long break and going into Rovers, Waterford and Derry away so it’s a difficult run before Europe starts.
“We’re in no way, shape or form being relaxed about where we are. We’ve a lot of work to do over the next two weeks and there will be no holidays any time soon for the players.”
Perth said his side would have preferred to play this week, with attempts to bring forward July fixtures against either Derry City or Cork City proving unsuccessful.
Nevertheless he’s happy that his side enter the break in a good position having turned around a 13 point gap to Shamrock Rovers from their defeat away to Sligo Rovers on April 12th.
“I’m extremely happy with where we’ve come from,” he said.
“We did lose a massive figurehead out of our club at the start of the season. There’s no doubt about that and I’ve never hid away from that. We’ve lost between himself and Jim McLaughlin the greatest manager in League of Ireland history. I’d obviously have Stephen ahead but that’s just my personal opinion and favouritism towards him.
“That was a massive loss to the club. We were questioned then but the way the players has been responded has been magnificent. We lost our 6, 8 and 10 out of our midfield through injury within two weeks but the players have been a credit to themselves.
“Other people might have doubted what was going on and doubted myself but I think the players have shown real loyalty to me, the rest of the staff and the club. We’ve got our rewards for that but it’s only half way through the season and we’ve got to be as good in the second half of the season, if not better.”
While pleased with the win in Ballybofey on Saturday, Perth was disappointed his side didn’t score more on the night.
“There’s probably an air of disappointment in one sense because I felt there was more goals in us there tonight. We went 4-4-2 with 25 minutes to go just to create more chances but we’re really happy with the performance.
“The back four again will not get the credit they deserve but you look at Brian Gartland our captain coming back in tonight, he was superb. We just felt Sean (Hoare) had played a lot of football and was at risk of an injury. He has been struggling with a couple of niggles. Dan Cleary again, for me at 22 years of age, he’s a real leader of the group. It was a very positive night. He didn’t score tonight but I thought Pat Hoban was outstanding as well. It was a real man’s performance from the players.”
A free period will give Perth and his management team the opportunity to focus more on potential transfers but the head coach said he has nothing in the pipeline as yet.
“I just don’t know where you strengthen or what improves you,” he said.
“I just don’t know if we need any more headaches. I said to John and Ruaidhrí today that when Robbie Benson, Jamie McGrath and Sean Murray are back who do we leave out and I don’t know is the honest answer.
“You can create too many headaches by having too many players in your group. We’re very happy with the squad we have. If someone becomes available we’ll discuss it but we’re nowhere near close to signing anybody or anything like that.”
Finally, before they play again Dundalk will know their European opponents with the Champions League first qualifying round draw scheduled to take place on June 18th.
Perth says he and his team are excited by the challenge that will bring.
“All the staff are really excited about it,” he said.
“Stephen O’Donnell left training skipping out of the room when he realised what was ahead of him because it’s a very exciting time and a brilliant thing for Irish players to be involved in.
“As a player and coach I’ve been involved in maybe just over 30 European games and they’re the best time of your life. It’s what you want to be challenged with and we really look forward to it.
“We need a little bit of luck in the draw. People will say we’re seeded but I think there are one or two teams, in particular, and maybe a few more who could cause us a problem and leave us with egg on our face so we need a bit of luck in the draw, like all Irish sides do but we can’t do anything until the draw is made,” he said.