Andy Boyle has already seen one big date go by the wayside this year, now he is craving another so he knows when he can get playing again.
The Dundalk FC defender was due to get married on May 30th but his big day at Carton House with fiancée Hayley Donegan was postponed due to Covid-19.
While the couple have two new dates to possibly walk down the aisle – one later this year and one next year – Boyle’s immediate concern right now is knowing if and when the SSE Airtricity League will resume.
The 29-year-old was back training at Oriel Park for the first time in 89 days last Monday and while he says it’s good to be back, he and his team-mates now want to know what they’re working towards with the future of the league this season and even the proposed July tournament involving the European qualifiers very much up in the air.
“When you go to the likes of the camps in January in Spain you have a date in mind that you’re working towards but at the moment probably the hardest part of it is that you’re doing the hard part with no dates to work towards.
“As much as we enjoy training, you can’t beat the actual match day feeling. I’m sure it’s the same for fans. It might be a while before they’re back in the stadium but just having us playing I’m sure would give everyone a bit of a lift in the town.
“As players we just want a bit of clarification of when we can work towards really. We’ve worked the whole way through lockdown without taking a break because we didn’t know when the league would start and we wanted to be prepared and ready but the sooner it gets cleared up and we have a date it will be better for players, fans and everyone involved with the league,” he said.
Having not featured in Dundalk’s last outing away to Finn Harps on March 6th, it is now approaching four months since Boyle’s last game – the 3-2 defeat away to Shamrock Rovers on February 28th. He says he doesn’t remember a period where he has gone this long without playing.
“It’s the longest I can really remember without playing a competitive game,” he said.
“Even though the off season here is long enough in the League of Ireland, this has been longer again.
“We were delighted to get back last week. The downside is there’s no end date for us to get back playing but even for now it’s just good to be back around the place. We knew it would be a tough week but the fitness levels were good which shows everyone worked hard.
“Just to see the lads again was great because we’re a close enough group. Training on your own for a couple of weeks is okay but for an extended period like that it becomes hard. The environment of being together and having the craic with the lads makes the hard work easier to do.”
As Boyle and the rest of the league wait on news of a possible return, the once-capped Republic of Ireland international remains hopeful his wedding day will happen sooner rather than later as well.
“It was supposed to be two weeks ago on May 30th,” he said.
“I had it booked while I was away in the UK and when I was coming back I had to make the club aware about it but we just got a phone call in mid-March to say that it wasn’t going to go ahead.
“They gave us options of different dates, one later in the year and one next year just incase that it hasn’t cleared up by the end of the year.
“It wasn’t the best news to get but what can you do? At this stage we don’t know if we’ll be allowed to get married this year or, if we are, will it be with reduced numbers or other conditions?
“We kind of half saw it coming though so you just have to get on with it. There’s far bigger things going on in the world so I guess it’s just one of those things that you have to take on the chin really,” said Boyle.
While everyone is suffering through the current Covid-19 pandemic in one way or another, Dundalk FC players are not immune.
There might be bigger concerns right now than Vinny Perth’s squad not training or being able to play matches but the human element to this unprecedented crisis hasn’t avoided them either.
Defender Andy Boyle was due to get married to his long term partner Hayley Donegan during the mid-season break this June but the couple’s wedding plans have now been postponed.
While the pair had hoped to rearrange the wedding for November, that too could be put on ice after the FAI and NLEC announced on Friday that the league was now likely to run until December 4th. With it being a best case scenario that the league even resumes on June 19th, the couple may now be forced to put off their nuptials until 2021.
The current situation has also had an impact on a couple of staff. As revealed in last week’s Argus, club captain Brian Gartland has had to close down both his basketball coaching business and his most recent venture, The Recovery Room in Abbotstown.
Club physio David Murphy has also just launched his own private practice but due to social distancing is unable to treat patients in the flesh.
Meanwhile, with four players’ partners expecting babies this year the dads-to-be are unable to attend scans with some hospitals also denying fathers access to the delivery room when the birth is taking place.
A number of Dundalk players have also been left in limbo by the current pandemic. The English quartet of Sean Murray, Jordan Flores, Will Patching and recent recruit Nathan Oduwa are all living away from home during the crisis. It is understood some or even all of them were able to return home late last week but spare a thought for recent Serbian signing Stefan Colovic, who is hundreds of miles away from home and unable to return at present.
The winger has been working hard in the YDC at Oriel Park pending the return of the football action – something that will hopefully be by June 19th as planned.
Dundalk defender Andy Boyle feels he will be back to his best for the start of the new campaign.
The centre half returned to the club last summer after a two-and-a-half year spell in the UK but without a pre-season under his belt failed to produce the kind of performances that earned him a move to Preston North End and a Republic of Ireland cap.
Having rested up at the end of last season, Boyle has been putting in the hard yards ever since with his performances in Spain against CFR Cluj – a game in which he scored – and against CSKA Moscow suggesting he is ready to hit the ground running this season.
The 28-year-old admitted it was tough being thrown in at the deep end last season.
“I got a week away but it’s not the same really because your body needs a certain amount of time and coming towards the end of the season you end up picking up little niggles that I’d never normally have.
“To be honest with you I probably had a couple of weeks out when we finished and then I worked hard in the off-season.
“I really feel the better of it to be honest with you. Pre-season is massive for any footballer so it’s good to get started.”
Boyle feels that is something he has had to do given the competition at centre back from Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare and Daniel Cleary.
“There’s massive competition all over the squad for places and centre half is no different.
“When you get the chance in pre-season you just have to perform to the best of your ability so that come the first league game you’re involved.
“That’s further down the road but for now we just want to get as fit as we can but to be fair I think this showed that we’re in good shape as a group.”
Boyle admitted to being impressed by newcomer Darragh Leahy and expects him to have a real battle with Dane Massey for the left back slot.
“Darragh was carrying a knock coming back so he hasn’t had loads of training under his belt so to perform the way he did was great.
“I thought he was against their best player for me but I thought he acquitted himself very well. He’s probably getting used to us as much as we’re getting used to Darragh but you can see he has got all the tools athletically and on the ball to be a top player but as you said we can’t write Dane off either because he has been brilliant for us.”
Speaking after the game against CFR Cluj on Wednesday, Boyle said there were plenty of positives to take from the game despite the Romanians scoring twice late on to cancel out his 26th minute opener and win 2-1.
“They’re a good side and their record shows that by what they’ve done in Europe this year. It was a great game for us and a great opportunity for us to test ourselves against probably the level that we want to get to which is to get to the Europa League group stages and play against top teams.
“First and foremost it’s about getting minutes under the belt. The performance then comes second but I thought both were good tonight. We played well at times and tried to play the right way. When you’re playing against an opposition with the quality that they have you need a bit of luck along the way but we probably maybe just ran out of a little bit of steam towards the end.
“I think in pre-season games when you make that many changes the game can fizzle out a little bit but they are a good side. You can see the quality that they have but as you said we’d probably fancy our chances of beating them if we had to in whatever competition we faced them in. That’s a good thing and something we can be very positive about.
“It’s good that we’ve ran a team like that so close so early in pre-season and we’re a bit disappointed to be honest that we haven’t come away with a draw but that’s secondary really.”
Boyle praised Michael Duffy for the quality of his corner that led to his goal.
“It was a great delivery,” he said.
“We kind of worked a little bit on set pieces this morning and that was one of the things that we had worked on because they go zonal. It was a drilled in ball and I just basically went and attacked it and thankfully it went in.
“We probably had the better chances overall but there wasn’t much in it at all. Their two goals probably come from slight things we can improve on but it’s still early days in pre-season and this trip to be fair gives us loads of time to prepare and let the manager work on our patterns of play,” he said.
There’s no such thing as a deal with no risks but Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth believes he’s got as close as possible to it in re-signing Andy Boyle.
The 28-year-old defender’s long discussed transfer back to the Lilywhites on a three-and-a-half year deal was confirmed on Monday afternoon.
While there will be those who argue central defence is the area Dundalk need to strengthen the least, Perth said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity of adding an Irish international to the squad once he became available.
“He’s one of our own,” Perth said.
“With the culture of what we do around the place being so important to us – and I suppose no one on the outside knows what that even mean but it means a lot to us – it is easy to fit him in.
“If I need to play Andy literally tomorrow night he knows what is expected and he knows how we do things so in that sense it is an easy signing and it’s obviously a very popular one in the squad because he’s very well thought of.
“Andy is one of them players that sometimes you forget he’s on the pitch and I think that’s the mark of a great centre half at times. He’s very calm and really good on the ball. He is our type of player so it’s good to have him home.
“Obviously when a guy at Championship level is released, most of them are out of our league for financial reasons and budgetary reasons but Andy knew so much about the club that he also knew our pay structure so he didn’t come looking for amounts we couldn’t afford or amounts we weren’t willing to pay.
“When an Irish international at that level, who is a really good age for a centre half, becomes available you have to be interested but it was literally over the last couple of days that we felt it was close and he only passed his medical this morning (Monday) so it was only then that you’re happy everything is done.”
With some crunch league games and a Champions League double header on the horizon against Riga FC, it would be perhaps unfair to throw Boyle in at the deep end given he is effectively in pre-season having not played since helping Ross County to promotion in May.
However, Perth feels it won’t be long before the 28-year-old is lining out in a white shirt again.
“He’s not that far off,” he said.
“As soon as the window opens he’ll be registered. We tested him today and while he’s slightly behind the rest of the group it’s nothing major.
“We’ve a small bit of work to do with him but the medical staff will do that with him.”
Perth said news of Boyle’s arrival was welcomed by the squad.
“They’re the type of players who embrace good players coming into the group and actively encourage it whereas it would be very easy for them run a mile and to fear for their own position.
“They were definitely happy when they heard the news.
“I think people will say the obvious that we have four centre halves and Stephen Folan as well but the answer to that is that we’ve probably been very lucky in relation to injuries in two positions all season and that has been at right full and centre half.
“If we hadn’t had the cover we had in midfield I don’t think we’d be within 10 points of the top of the league. The fact we had that cover gave us a chance.
“If we got two injuries this week we would head into Europe very, very short in that position so all we’ve done is strengthen that position. I also think that Andy will play a part in Sean Hoare and Dan Cleary’s development as players. We have really high hopes for both of them. Dan, as a young player, is very similar to Andy and I think he can evolve even more as a centre half having Andy around. I think it ticks a lot of boxes.”
Asked would there be further arrivals at Oriel Park this summer, Perth remained coy.
“There is nobody on the radar,” he said.
“There wasn’t two weeks ago other than the chance that Andy may come home but that’s all it was.
“There’s nothing else likely to happen. We’ve a brilliant squad. The owners have really backed the group and we feel we’ve a very strong squad.
“We trained last week and halfway through the session I realised it was the first time that every single player had trained together since the start of the season so we stopped the session, gave ourselves a round of applause and had a bit of a laugh. That’s very uncommon for most teams to have that situation but it feels like Robbie Benson is a new signing over the last week. We’ve had Sean Murray and Jamie McGrath both training this week full-time so it feels like we’ve added two or three to the group already because of them injuries clearing up.
“We don’t expect wholesale changes plus we do see a future for a number of the young players at the club. We seen Dylan Hand making his debut recently, Lido Lotefa has a real chance and a couple of lads from the U-19s have been training with us of late so I think we’ll start to see people step up to the plate.”
Meanwhile, Perth said he would travel to Latvia on Wednesday to watch Champions League opponents Riga FC in action against bottom club in the Virsliga, FK Jelgava.
“I watched their last four games and I may go over and watch them on Wednesday as well,” he said.
“We’ll see them live over the next two weeks a couple of times but they’re a good side. There’s not a lot between the teams and there never is at this stage of the competition. We’ve never had it easy at all at this stage so it won’t be any different this year.”
With FK Partizani of Albania or Qarabag of Azerbaijan awaiting the winners, Perth said he’d rather be going to those far flung destinations than the prospect of meeting either BATE Borisov or Polish champions Piast Gliwice if they lost.
“Obviously that’s the tie we have our eye on,” he said.
“We want to stay in the Champions League as long as possible because that’s the dream competition. Ultimately a club of our size our goal is Europa League group stages for now and the best way of doing that is to stay in the Champions League as long as possible.
“We would like to have the headache of preparing for either Azerbaijan or Albania.
“Before that Riga is a very difficult tie but it’s no more difficult than when we played FH or even Tallinn last year. Even at this stage of the competition most teams are evenly matched.
“I’m sure Riga are quite happy with the draw as well. They would have wanted us or New Saints from Wales so it hasn’t been the worst draw for them either so we have to be really at it,” he said.
June 25th is a big date in Andy Boyle’s career.
It was on this date nine years ago that the defender scored his first career goal, heading home a Paul Corry free kick after to equalise for UCD after they had fallen behind to an early Eamon Zayed strike away to Sporting Fingal at Morton Stadium. A late goal from his fellow defender Evan McMillan would earn the Students a 2-1 win to claim the headlines but it was Boyle who people were quickly taking notice of.
Exactly nine years on from that landmark moment in his career, Boyle embarks on achieving another huge goal today when he trains with his new (and old) team-mates for the first time.
It was on the back of a series of superb performances in Europe for Dundalk that he earned a move to the UK and a subsequent international cap for his country.
Now that he is back Boyle is determined to conquer Europe again and hasn’t ruled out forcing his way back into the international setup either.
“That was probably the biggest draw about the league, that you get a chance to play in the Champions League and Europe,” he said.
“They are some of the biggest nights of your career and your life. The journey we went on in 2016 will stand out with all of us forever and everyone who was involved in that will only probably realise what we done when we retire. It was such a massive achievement but coming back the aim has to be to get there again and have another taste of it.
“Obviously domestically we’ve got to look after ourselves and the lads have put themselves in a fantastic position to go and win the league again.
“To get these European nights you’ve got to do well domestically but they are such special nights and the more of them we get the better. Everyone in and around the club has the same drive to repeat that,” he said.
While a move to Preston North End at the end of Dundalk’s memorable Europa League run of 2016 didn’t quite pan out following Simon Grayson’s departure two years ago, Boyle said he has few regrets about the move and feels he is returning to the SSE Airtricity League a much better player for the experience.
“It took me maybe a month or two to get into the team but once I did it went well. I more or less stayed in and played a decent amount of games from then on and got a full international cap as well which was a huge moment in my career.
“Then coming back for pre-season you think it’s going to be brilliant but then you find out a couple of days beforehand that the manager has left to go to Sunderland. You’re just hoping whoever comes in takes a fancy to you but I didn’t play enough really after that.
“I had to push to get out on loan to play games for my own career. I was just a bit unlucky because I had played six or seven games for Doncaster and then done a grade two on my groin. It’s probably the only time I’ve ever had a proper muscular injury so I didn’t get that bit of luck along the way or get the breaks.
“When I look back on all that time, it has made me a better person and better player playing at that kind of level. I played a lot of games the following season in Scotland so overall I think it was positive enough.
“I was never going to play the amount of games I had for Dundalk in the previous three or four years because I never really missed a game really. That was always going to change in the UK, especially at Championship or League One level where you’re playing 46 league games in a season. Saturday and Tuesday every week is a tough ask for anyone but I look back at it as a positive thing.
“I think I’m coming back a better player. I think as a defender you learn a bit of nous. You’re playing and training against a very high calibre of opposition so you learn things that different strikers do and I suppose just pick up little tips from different coaches and managers. You just take little bits and pieces here and there.
“You’re always learning and you’ll always be until you stop playing. I got to play against a lot of different formations in England and Scotland. When you’re playing against the likes of Celtic and Rangers, it’s good opposition and even playing away to Newcastle on the night they got promoted was another good experience,” he said.
Rumours about the 28-year-old’s possible return to Oriel Park first surfaced in January and while it didn’t happen then, he said he always had it in his head to return to the club.
“Back in January it probably wasn’t as much of a runner as it is now. I was speaking to a few clubs in January and at that time I wanted to give it another shot at a club in the UK.
“To be fair it went well for me at Ross County. We won the league and a Cup as well but this was always something I was thinking about for the summer. Obviously I had spoken to Vinny in January and I said we’d maybe have another conversation in the summer so we went from there really.”
Once Boyle, who will get married to fiancée Hayley next year, decided to return to Ireland he said there was only one place he wanted to go.
“I’ve a real love for the club. Some of the best nights of my career have been in a Dundalk shirt and we’ll always remember the great European nights that we were all involved in.
“I think realistically if I was coming back to Ireland then the only place I wanted to come was Dundalk. I had other offers but I think it was always going to be Dundalk and I made that clear at the start when I spoke to Vinny.
“It’ll be nice to go in on Tuesday and have a couple of familiar faces.”
While linking up with nine former Dundalk team-mates is a plus, Boyle said the improvement in facilities was a major factor in his decision to return to a club who were still training part-time in the evenings when he was last here.
“One of the key selling points was what they have done with the facilities. It’s a different club really from the one I left.
“The facilities that are on hand for the players now are a big plus. The club is only going in one direction and that was a big selling point for me.
“You don’t really believe it until you go up and see it. I know the lads had spoken so highly about it but it’s a very impressive setup and gives you an idea of what the owners want to do going forward.
“It’s a full-time setup and that’s a big draw because you want to be as professional as you can and the setup made that really appealing.
“Everyone around the town has been brilliant to me over the years and that played a big part in me coming home as well to be honest.”
While Boyle is effectively entering pre-season, he feels he is in good shape and ready to hit the ground running when he becomes available for the first time ahead of the trip to face Derry City at the Brandywell on Friday July 5th.
“I’ve worked hard,” he said when asked about where he was at fitness-wise.
“I went away on holidays but I trained out there with a personal trainer every morning just to make sure I was as professional as I could be. Hopefully when I get training with the lads and get a few minutes all of that will come along.
“Another week or so of training and hopefully I’ll develop and go from there but I feel fit enough and I feel I’ve looked after myself correctly.
“It was my first day in with the strength and conditioning coach today and he was happy enough so it’s just about building myself up again. I’ll train as hard as I can to get myself ready for selection as soon as possible.
“I can only really be registered from July 1st so I think Waterford on Monday may come too soon. You’re probably looking at the Derry game before I’m available for selection but like I say it gives me a week or so of probably being flogged but I’ll look forward to it.”
The hard work starts here but that’s something he’s certainly not afraid of. There’s another league title and a European goal in sight. He’ll stop at nothing to achieve both.