Tonight’s match against UCD might just be another game for Dundalk in their pursuit of retaining the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division but for goalkeeper Gary Rogers it’s set to be a special one.
Should he play, as expected, then it will be the veteran’s 500th Premier Division appearance of his career while also being his 150th league start for the Lilywhites.
It’s a feat only Derry City legend Peter Hutton, with 537, has managed in the past and Rogers feels it is a real honour to join him in the 500 club.
“It’s fantastic to be playing and making that many appearances,” he said.
“I won’t say you get used to things like that but you have to enjoy all the games that you have played and look forward to some more.”
The 37-year-old previously celebrated his 500th league game in March 2018 against Waterford FC but ahead of his 555th league match he says he doesn’t discount those 55 First Division appearances.
Asked did this achievement mean any more, Rogers said: “Not really.
“I don’t think any less of the appearances I made in the First Division so it’s more or less the same. The appearances in the First Division were what got me the opportunity to play in the Premier Division. That’s where you cut your teeth and learn and make your mistakes. I wouldn’t discard the First Division appearances at all but it is nice to make 500 appearances in the Premier Division as well.
“My first Premier Division game I think was Derry City at home for Drogheda and if I’m not mistaken I think Gary Beckett scored and Liam Coyle scored a penalty. I think we were 1-0 up and got beaten 2-1. I’m nearly sure that was my first Premier Division game. My first game was for St Francis against Sligo in Sligo so they were my two firsts.”
While Dundalk also face UCD at the UCD Bowl this Friday ahead of a trip to his old stomping ground of The Showgrounds to face Sligo Rovers on Monday, Rogers said he was happy to be reaching the landmark at Oriel Park.
“At this stage I’ve had most of my appearances for Dundalk in terms of the club I’ve played most for so it’s great to do it at Oriel.
“My time at Dundalk, you couldn’t have scripted it any better. We won the double in 2015, we had great European nights and won the league in 2016 and another double again last year so it has been a phenomenal part of my career and I’m very grateful to be still there and hopefully there is more success to come.”
Despite all his experience, Rogers said he struggled to remember a time when he played back-to-back league matches against the same opposition. While Dundalk are hot favourites to win both this week’s matches against the bottom of the table Students, Rogers says Vinny Perth’s side can’t afford to take them for granted after they bounced back from their 10-1 defeat to Bohs recently with a 3-1 FAI Cup win over St Patrick’s Athletic on Friday.
“When you lose a game with that sort of scoreline you can’t wait for the next game to show what you’re about. UCD bounced back really, really well to beat St Pat’s 3-1 in the Cup. It shows their character.
“They’re always a good footballing side. They’re very brave on the ball and they like to play. They’re true to their style of play and you can’t expect any easy games in our league. Yes, we’ll be favourites to win both but that doesn’t mean anything. We still have to go out and perform.
“We will probably be favourites to win the two games but anything can happen in football. There’s always strange results out there and strange occurrences.”
Rogers stressed the importance of keeping the club’s good run going as he bids to land his fifth Premier Division medal at the end of the season.
“Every league game is three points and you’ve got to perform every week to win the league.
“This is a big week for us and a big step for us in terms of accomplishing a league title. Obviously we’re in a good position but if we don’t win these games then our position will diminish a little bit.
“It’s going to be a tough week but we’ll be focused on getting the job done in every game and trying to pick up as many points as we can.
“We’re in a strong position for the league but we have to perform to stay in that position.
“You don’t want to be giving Rovers much hope so every result is vital now and every win is three more points for us and one less opportunity to drop points when you’re chalking off the games.”
The Meathman turns 38 next month but he insists he has no intention of stopping if at all possible, with Al Finucane’s record of 634 league games played very much in his sights.
“My ultimate ambition is to try and catch Al Finucane,” he said.
“He’s obviously well ahead on all-time appearances but I think it’s an achievable one for me as long as I stay fit, healthy and I’m still playing.
“It’s something that is within my sights and I think it would be wrong not to have a good crack at it. There’s no better place to try and do that than Dundalk.”
Indeed, after a season which has seen him claim 18 clean sheets so far, as well as perform penalty heroics in the Champions League, Rogers feels he is in as good a place as he can be right now.
“I am certainly enjoying my football,” he said.
“When you get to my stage of my career you’ve got to enjoy it because everything could potentially be your last. It could be the last time I play in Europe, it could be my last game for Dundalk or whatever so you’ve got to really grasp the opportunity and enjoy it because you just never know. I feel good at the moment but if I pick up an injury I may have played my last game of football. Touch wood I feel great and I’ve looked after myself. I’m really enjoying it and I’m just trying to play as well as I can to the best of my ability to finish my career on a real high point.
“That’s my plan and if I can continue playing as I am then that’s more important than anything,” said Rogers.