Dundalk will travel to the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium next Tuesday February 23rd for the first of their pre-season friendly fixtures against Derry City.
The match with Declan Devine’s side is the first of three in the pipeline for Filippo Giovagnoli’s side ahead of the new campaign with a trip to United Park to face Drogheda Utd in the Jim Malone Cup and the visit of Bohemians to Oriel Park also on the agenda. Exact dates and times for those matches had yet to be officially confirmed at the time of going to press.
Those three matches, as well as the President’s Cup final against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium on Friday March 12th, could be the only games the side plays before the new league season kicks-off against Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds on Saturday March 20th.
“They’ll be the three games before the President’s Cup,” said Giovagnoli.
While looking forward to getting his side back on the pitch, the Italian said he was unsure at this stage how many first-team players would be ready to face the Candystripes next week.
“Derry will be just the first approach to giving minutes to some of the players because I’m not going to have many players available for this game but it doesn’t matter. We’ll play some of the younger players as well and some of them could surprise us.
“We want to be challenged. We have to be use to playing strong teams so those games are going to be really good for us.”
Asked would he be treating the President’s Cup match as a friendly, Giovagnoli said: “Not really, for us it’s a Cup and we want to win.”
With continued doubts over the WatchLOI service for the forthcoming season, Dundalk are understood to be exploring the possibility of streaming their own matches with a trial possible during the pre-season games.
Dundalk boss Vinny Perth is hopeful his side will play their first game since March on Friday week July 10th with Derry City the likely opponents.
The 43-year-old is in the process of lining up a series of friendlies for his side to help prepare them for the hoped for return of the SSE Airtricity League on July 31st and the Champions League qualifiers in mid-August.
While he does not wish to advertise the games pencilled in as yet, the Lilywhites manager said a return to action was on the horizon.
“We’ll probably play the first game on Friday 10th July,” he said.
“We’ll play our first 11v11 in-house game on Friday as well just among ourselves.
“We have friendlies lined up but we just won’t be announcing any just yet. That suits any club we’ve spoken to.
“We’re very close to being able to announce some but they’ll probably only be the week we play them.”
While talks regarding a possible return of the league had failed to reach a conclusion once again last week, Perth said he and his side were still working towards an expected return date of July 31st.
“I don’t think it’s a trade secret that we’re working towards July 31st,” he said.
“I expect that that is when some sort of a league will be back. We’re not sure what it will be but the players have to be prepared for that.
“We’ve also got to prepare to be ready for Europe. We’ve lost the advantage of summer football but the one thing we’ve never done is being caught out for fitness in the close to 40 games that I’ve been involved in with the club in Europe so we have to make sure we’re there on that as well.” Perth said training had been going well so far.
“We’re at the start of our fourth week and we really haven’t had an injury. We’ve had a couple of small things with Gary Rogers and Sean Hoare but they’re nothing major. John Mountney has returned to training so in that sense I’m really, really happy. It has been a perfect pre-season.”
Alan Reynolds was officially unveiled as the club’s new assistant last Tuesday and Perth said he had already made an impact on the training pitch.
“Alan is an experienced person around the league and for too long Irish coaches have been undervalued. I think he’s someone who is very experienced but he has come in as if he has been here for a long, long time so we’re very happy so far.”
The manager also welcomed the addition of Joshua Gatt to the squad and said the twice-capped USA international would be given a chance to prove himself despite having his career interrupted by four major knee surgeries in the last seven years.
“Josh has got until the end of the season,” he said.
“The lad deserves a chance. He’s someone who is very experienced but he’s had a lot of bad, bad luck and things haven’t gone his way. No matter who you are or what you are in life you need a chance from somebody. “Many times in my career I’ve had a chance from different people so I think he’s worth a chance. He has been brilliant around the place so far but we’ll see where it ends up.”
Asked was he concerned about the 28-year-old’s previous knee problems, Perth said: “There’s no doubt that there’s a history there. We’ve taken that completely into consideration but he deserves a chance and we’ve given him a chance so we’ll see where it goes.”
Meanwhile, Cameron Dummigan has reported back to training with the club after his loan spell at Crusaders came to an end. Republic of Ireland underage goalkeeper Jimmy Corcoran has also been training with the side following his release from Preston North End. The 18-year-old Meath man could be signed as a third choice behind Gary Rogers and Aaron McCarey as he is also eligible to play at U-19 level for this season and next but is also understood to have other options.
Dundalk’s number 14 Dane Massey couldn’t hide his delight after striking on the 14th to make it 14 games without a win for Derry City at Oriel Park on Friday night.
The 31-year-old scored the only goal of the game 11 minutes from the end to help his side to their first winning start to a season since beating Shamrock Rovers in 2017.
Speaking afterwards, a beaming Massey gave much of the plaudits to substitute Jordan Flores, whose corner he met on the volley to strike through the legs of Conor McCormack.
“It was a great ball in by Jordan,” he said.
“We had numerous set pieces tonight and we did look threatening but I caught it sweet and thankfully it went into the back of the net.
“You have to give Derry great credit because they defended very well. They came with a game plan and they were tight and compact so it was up to us to break them down. You could see we were a bit rusty tonight as well but we’ll get that together over the next couple of weeks. I’m sure all teams will be the same but it’s three points on the first game of the season so we’re off to a flyer,” said the 31-year-old.
As an added extra, the goal came on what was Massey’s 200th league start for the club.
“It’s great,” he smiled.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d play 200 league games for this club. It’s a great honour and I’m extremely proud of that.”
Of more importance to the left back, however, was a winning start to the season.
“We have our targets and our goals and to get a good start in the league this year was part of that.
“It’s only one game in but there will be others coming thick and fast.”
Massey is set to come under pressure this season for his place in the side following the arrival of Irish U-21 left back Darragh Leahy from Bohemians but he said the same is the case for players throughout the team.
“There’s competition all over the park to be fair.
“Darragh is a great young player who has come in so I know if I’m not at my best then he’ll step in but to be fair it’s like that all over the pitch. We could put out two 11s to be fair and still do well in the league so it’s up to the first 11 to keep the jersey.”
After starting with a win, Massey now hopes Dundalk can make it two in-a-row by following it up with victory away to Shelbourne on Friday night.
“Tolka Park is a great stadium to play in and the atmosphere is always brilliant. There’ll be that bit of extra spice to the game with it being their first home game in a number of years but we’ll look forward to it and hopefully we’ll do well,” he said.
A local man will be leading his side into battle at Oriel Park on Friday night as the new League of Ireland season kicks-off but he’ll be out to ensure Dundalk have to wait at least another week to claim their first three points of the campaign.
Having completed a move from Cork City to Derry City at the end of last season, Greenore’s Conor McCormack was last week handed the captain’s armband by his new boss Declan Devine.
Speaking to The Argus ahead of Friday night’s game, the former Bellurgan Utd player admitted he thrives on testing himself against the club he supported as a boy and hopes he can prove a thorn in the Lilywhites’ side like he has so often in the past again this week.
“I relish the challenge against Dundalk to tell you the truth,” said the former Man Utd trainee.
“I’m sure everyone knows by now that a lot of my relatives would be Dundalk supporters and I used to go to the games myself when I was a kid. I relish every game to be honest but especially now that Dundalk are very successful it’s always good to get a victory over them.
“It’s never easy so every victory you get you’ve to work hard for it. Unfortunately things went a bit upside down last year at Cork but for the last few years they were great battles against each other and I really enjoyed them. That’s why you play football I suppose, to play against the best.”
It was April 2013 that Derry last earned a league win at Oriel and McCormack feels there is no better time to put that right than on Friday.
“Absolutely, it’s too long to have a record like that without a win somewhere but we’ve had five or six hard weeks now building up to this game so hopefully we can get it tactically spot on and Dundalk have an off day and we can catch them on the hop because not a lot of people are expecting too much from us on Friday.”
Having already spent 18 months at Derry in the second half of 2015 and whole of 2016, the 29-year-old knows all about the club’s qualities but he feels new boss Declan Devine can ensure that the Candystripes are back competing at the top end of the table on a regular basis once again.
“I’m really enjoying being back here,” said McCormack.
“Declan and his staff have really put things together up here and things are going well with the new stadium, the training base and the gym. They’re doing things right here so I was only delighted to come here.
“When I spoke to Declan in the off season you could see his enthusiasm and determination. The lads really work for him as well. I know from playing against them last year that they work really hard and they ran over us to tell you the truth. I know they ran Dundalk close a very few times as well. When I spoke to him, he was everything that I’d want in a manager and it’s a case of so far, so good so hopefully we can have a good season now.”
The midfielder admitted he was a little surprised to be named club captain having only rejoined Derry but said it was an honour that he wouldn’t be taking lightly.
“I was a bit surprised to tell you the truth but all of his attributes are about working hard and I can see why he’d pick me because that’s how I play really.
“I’m not really blessed with unbelievable talent but I work my socks off and that’s the way he has gone. He knows that I’ve played here before, he has watched me here before and I was a big part of his plans. He wanted me even before the end of last season. I had been speaking to him on and off for a couple of months so I was just glad that the deal went through so it was just a bonus then to be named captain of this great club.
“I played here before under a great captain in Ryan McBride and if I’m half the captain he was I’ll be happy with that.”
McCormack admits that few will expect Derry to cause an upset at Oriel Park on Friday but he hasn’t ruled that out himself.
“What Derry achieved last year was no fluke. It was down to hard work and the way that Declan sets up his teams. Pre-season has been really tough and hard but we can’t wait now until Friday night.
“It’s going to be a tough game obviously against Dundalk. No one is really expecting us to go there and win handy or anything but we know in our group that we’ve talented players and hopefully on the night things can click right and we can get a positive result.
“Making sure Europe is an annual thing would be a main aim but we’re just going to take each game as it comes. We’ve Dundalk on Friday and if we can get our game plan right and a couple of points it would be a great start.
“We’re not going to start saying we’re going to challenge for titles or win Cups. I think that would be stupid but if we can build on last year it would be great. We’ll try to gather points in each game and we’ll see where that takes us.”
Hopefully from Dundalk’s perspective those points don’t arrive on Friday.