David McMillan is hoping he can pick up from where he left off when Dundalk return to competitive action next month.
After an initial slow start to his second spell at Oriel Park following his return from Scotland last July, the striker finished the season in style with two goals against Rapid Vienna in the Europa League to equal the record for most goals by a League of Ireland player in Europe. There was also a brace away to both Bohemians and Athlone Town in the FAI Cup quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively before he became just the third player in history to score a hat-trick in the final as Dundalk beat Shamrock Rovers 4-2 after extra time at the Aviva Stadium last December to ensure a topsy-turvy year ended with some silverware.
The 32-year-old will be back in action along with his team-mates for the first time this year when they welcome Bohemians to Oriel Park for the first of the two pre-season friendlies.
Having missed out on a proper pre-season before the league resumed after a break for Covid last summer, McMillan said he was looking forward to the next couple of matches against Bohs and Drogheda to get him prepared for the President’s Cup clash with Rovers on March 12th and the league opener away to Sligo eight days later.
“We’ve been back quite a while but we’re really only going to have two friendlies, Bohs and Drogheda, over the next two weeks so I suppose heading into this week it’s nice to be having a normal training week that you’d be used to going into a game on the Friday.
“Last year was frustrating because I had been hoping to sign back maybe a week or two before I did and probably for that to have happened would have been more advantageous for myself and the club to be back training longer but that’s just the way it worked out.
“It can be hard to get some deals over the line and you’re sometimes relying on other people coming and going. It took a while personally for myself to get up and running but it’s nice to have had an injury-free pre-season so far to get up to speed and continue hopefully from where I left off at the end of last year.
“The end to last year was a good time for me personally being amongst the goals. I had had a long time off from March through to July with very little other than individual training so by the time I got up to speed and started playing more games the season was over but that’s the way it was.
“It was just a strange year and I’m sure this year will be a little bit different as well as there might be breaks in play but hopefully later in the year we’ll be fully back to normal fingers crossed. It was a good end to the year but it has been such a short break. It really has felt like no time off at all and now I’m back in training and feeling good.”
One frustration for McMillan last year was that he failed to grab a league goal but with a 36-game season ahead, he is hoping to put that right sooner rather than later.
“Definitely, that was frustrating but to get the other goals helped alleviate the annoyance.
“It’s a fresh start this year and I’ll be looking to get as many goals and as many games as possible but I think we’re building a strong squad and there’ll be plenty of competition and hopefully there’ll be plenty of goals to come from a few of us.
“We’re just building towards that President’s Cup game now. There has been a couple of niggly injuries for some players in the group but hopefully they’ll get back over the next few weeks and we’ll be raring to go against Rovers on the 12th and Sligo the following week,” he said.
Having been denied a new club record twice by the crossbar in Athlone on Sunday, Dundalk striker David McMillan is hoping he can get the job done in Sunday’s FAI Cup final against Shamrock Rovers.
Just as he managed in 2017, the striker’s double took him to five FAI Cup goals for the season. This equaled the return of most Cup goals in a single season for the club as held by Gerry McCourt (1930–31); Ronnie Henderson (1948–49) Joe Martin (1951–52), Johnny Fearon (1951–52) and Garry Haylock (2001-02).
Already the holder of the club’s record for most goals in Europe, the 31-year-old would love to be attributed with another landmark but is hopeful of doing it in the final with what would be his first goal at the Aviva Stadium.
“Hopefully I’m saving it for the final,” he said.
“I’ve played in a few finals and haven’t scored. I don’t think I’ve scored in the Aviva either so that’s something I would like to change. It’s either on Sunday or against Arsenal so hopefully it will be Sunday.”
McMillan said it was a superb achievement for the club to have made its sixth successive final and is hoping they can go one better than last season by lifting the trophy at the end.
“I was watching the game last year in Scotland and I remember jumping up and down when Mickey (Duffy) equalised.
“It was a tough one to lose on penalties. Now everyone will be chomping at the bit to get that Cup back. It’s a huge achievement by the players who have been here all along. To be in the sixth final in-a-row is incredible. Now we want to go win it.”
The striker is well aware too that clinching silverware can change the narrative of the season massively.
“I think we’ve said that. The league campaign was disappointing. We at least acheived Europe in that but the year can still be a success if we go and win the Cup and try to build on the success of qualifying for the group stages,” he said.
David McMillan spearheaded Dundalk’s run to the Europa League group stages in 2016. Now he’s back to do it again.
The 31-year-old scored the game’s only goal with a cool finish from Michael Duffy’s pass as Filippo Giovagnoli’s side overcame Inter Club d’Escalades in Andorra last Thursday night to set up a third qualifying round tie away to Moldovan champions Sheriff Tiraspol this Thursday.
The prize for the winner will be a home tie in a one-legged play-off against either KÍ Klaksvik from the Faroe Islands or Dynamo Tbilisi and McMillan is hoping that lightning can strike twice and Dundalk can return to the group stages.
Back before the club’s memorable European run under Stephen Kenny four summers ago, the Dubliner was due to be on the bench when Dundalk travelled to face Derry City but the fact Ciaran Kilduff wasn’t feeling well saw him thrown in from the start.
He would go on to score the first league hat-trick of his career in a 5-0 win before following it up with another treble in a 4-3 win over Longford Town at Oriel Park four days later. He would then carry that form into Europe with three goals over the two legs against FH Hafnarfjordur in the Champions League qualifiers before a superb brace in the memorable 3-0 win over BATE Borisov in Tallaght that secured Europa League group stage football for the Lilywhites.
Having returned to Oriel Park after a two-and-a-half year spell in Scotland this summer, McMillan was largely playing second fiddle to top scorer Patrick Hoban before the striker picked up a groin injury ahead of the FAI Cup win away to Cobh Ramblers last month.
Now he’s taking his chance again and hoping the end result proves similar.
“Football is a strange game. You can be in one minute and out the next or vice versa,” he said.
“I only found out a minute or two before the Cobh game that I was starting and it has been good to get the chance because when I came back to the club I knew Pat had been doing well and scoring goals so I was just happy to bide my time to get my chance and hopefully now I’ve taken it.
“It’s lucky for me and hopefully I can continue it this week,” he said.
The 31-year-old is expecting a tougher test from Sheriff than that posed in Andorra.
“It will be a step up,” he said. “They’ve a decent record in Europe. We haven’t watched too much of them yet but from what I gather they’ve started very well in their league so it will definitely be a tough test and going away from home obviously makes it a little bit more difficult but there are great rewards to be had if we can go and win.
“We’d be at home in the play-off round so it’s a great incentive to go and beat Sheriff and put ourselves in a really strong position to push for the group stages again.”
McMillan said he had huge sympathy for his team-mate Andy Boyle, who misses the trip to Moldova through suspension after two very harsh bookings against Inter Club.
“I haven’t seen them back but in real-time they both looked harsh decisions, not even in terms of being a yellow but even as fouls.
“Just any sort of a challenge in the air seemed to be a free kick whether it was for the defender or the attacker. When the referee starts doing that I think he puts himself in a tricky position.
“The first yellow was exceptionally harsh. It just came off the shout of the opposition player. Then the second one I don’t think he was going to book him at all but he saw a bit of blood on the guy and decides it’s enough for a yellow card even though he initially wasn’t going to give it to him.
“Andy’s record in terms of being sent-off is exceptional. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do really if you can’t go and challenge for the ball. I was so disappointed for him and I think everybody felt for him in the dressing room after the game because you can’t even appeal it.”
David McMillan knows all about taking opportunities when they come.
Back at the start of July 2016 he was due to be on the bench when Dundalk travelled to the Brandywell to face Derry City but the fact Ciaran Kilduff wasn’t feeling well saw him thrown in rom the start.
He would go on to score the first league hat-trick of his career in a 5-0 win before following it up with another in a 4-3 win over Longford Town at Oriel Park four days later. He would then carry that form into Europe with three goals over the two legs against FH Hafnarfjordur in the Champions League qualifiers before a superb brace in the memorable 3-0 win over BATE Borisov in Tallaght.
It’s easy to wonder would history have been a little different had Kilduff not felt sick that day.
Fast forward a little over four years on and McMillan is back at Oriel Park. Opportunities have been scarce since his return last month but an injury to Patrick Hoban in the warm-up at St Colman’s Park on Sunday meant he was thrown in from the start and would certainly have impressed new interim head coach Filippo Giovagnoli with a superb display that included playing a big part in the opening goal for Dane Massey and sealing the game from the penalty spot with 12 minutes to go.
McMillan admits it has been a bit of a surreal period since his return from Scotland having now played under three different sets of managers but he is hopeful he did enough against Cobh to keep him in the new manager’s thoughts for their next outing against Shelbourne on Friday week.
“It has been a weird spell I suppose and then even the situation today was unexpected,” said McMillan afterwards.
“Pat was meant to play but he had a niggle yesterday. He hurt himself in training a little bit but we thought he was going to be okay. We had done a little test on it and it seemed to be fine but then obviously in the warm up he had to pull out. It was weird because I had in my head that I was going to be on the bench and then to get the start was just a nice surprise.
“It was a tough game to come in on such a bobbly pitch but I thought we managed the game well and it’s always nice to get a goal.
“I think it was a game that sort of suited my style. It wasn’t going to be always pretty. I think we did our best to play as much as we could but at times you just had to take no chances.
“For the first goal I just harried well and chased into the corner and broke well and it was a good goal for us. It was nice then to get a penalty and get off the mark as well.”
The 31-year-old admitted on his return to the club that he would have to play second fiddle to Hoban but with a new manager in with no preconceived ideas on anyone, it is an opportunity for the likes of him to stake a real claim for a starting place.
“Vinny had been in and I was trying to push as much as I can to show Vinny that maybe I should start and then he has obviously left. Then Rennie and Giller took a game and you’re hoping they might see something to give you a chance. Now we’re on our third sort of pairing and you’re hoping the guys will see what you’ve got so it’s difficult,” he said.
“You’ve got to try and keep impressing new people. Hopefully today it was a slice of luck for me that Pat missed a game. Obviously we hope it is nothing too serious but to be able to show the managers what I can do is a bonus because if Pat had played he probably would have only seen me play for 10 or 20 minutes. It’s more difficult to show what you can do in that period so it was nice to be able to show that between the two of us there are good options there.
“For me personally it was just good to get off the mark after coming back.
“I’ve had a couple of games off the bench but when you get a start you feel like you should be scoring. We’re playing First Division opposition so I wanted to try and get on the scoresheet if I could. I was glad I could do that and hopefully now that is that monkey off the back and hopefully I can get a few more.”
The striker said his return to the club has not been how he imagined but he was confident Dundalk could turn things around under Giovagnoli.
“I’ve come in and we haven’t won a league game so I take that personally. I think it’s a mark against me and every other player and I think they feel it.
“I’m not happy because Vinny signed me and he took a leap of faith to bring me back to the club and now he has gone. That’s disappointing for me personally because he was a big part in making sure I could come back but we’ve just got to keep working hard.
“The two guys have come in and they’ve brought a bit of energy about the place so we’ve got to match that as players. The results haven’t been good enough but hopefully we can turn it around from this performance on.
“We’re not giving up on anything. For us personally there’s a lot of pride at stake to keep going in the league and push up as high as we can. Firstly we’ve got to chase down Bohs and then obviously Shamrock Rovers.
“All we can do is win as many games as we can between now and the end of the season. We want to be going into the Europa League and the Cup when it comes around again in good form. We can’t just turn it on and off. We’ve got to be playing well and we want to be doing well in Europe if we can,” he said.
A familiar face is expected to be back in the Dundalk FC squad when the club returns to league action against St Patrick’s Athletic on Friday night (kick-off 7.45pm, live on RTÉ Two).
The Argus understands that striker David McMillan is close to re-signing for the Lilywhites following his departure from Scottish Premiership side St Johnstone at the end of May.
The 31-year-old previously graced Oriel Park for four seasons from 2014 to 2017, winning three league titles, two EA Sports Cups and an FAI Cup, as well as playing a pivotal role in the club’s memorable European journey in 2016.
While McMillan’s spell in Scotland never quite worked out as hoped, with just four goals in 13 league starts and 11 sub appearances for St Johnstone either side of loan spells at Hamilton and Falkirk, where he played most recently, he remains a firm fan favourite at Oriel Park.
The attacker scored 74 goals in 125 starts and 47 substitute appearances during his initial spell at Oriel Park, including 51 goals and seven in Europe making him the club’s all-time leading European goalscorer with four more goals than Robbie Benson, Cathal Muckian, Mick Fairclough and new team-mate Patrick Hoban.
McMillan’s pending arrival is set to spell the end of Georgie Kelly’s tenure at Oriel Park with a loan move to St Patrick’s Athletic now in the offing.