Having gone to school in the town and grown up just 14km away from Head in the Game Park in Gormanston, a winner against Drogheda Utd – even in a friendly setting such as the Malone Cup – should have been a big moment for Greg Sloggett.
Just like many events in the last year, however, the significance of his header to earn Dundalk a 3-2 win over their Co Louth rivals on Saturday was diluted somewhat by the lack of fans in attendance as the country continues to struggle to get on top of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sloggett’s 68th minute goal from Patrick McEleney’s free kick ironically came a year to the day since the midfielder scored the last Dundalk goal in front of supporters in the 4-0 victory over Finn Harps in Ballybofey.
While he will remember that goal fondly as being his first for Dundalk, the 24-year-old admitted after Saturday’s win that not having fans there had taken away some of the joy associated with everything he has achieved in the white shirt since then.
“It absolutely took away from the win today,” he said of the lack of fans, “and I can say that many times over the course of the last year.
“I can’t wait to have them back. You miss the atmosphere, you miss the adrenaline rush, you miss even that feeling when you score.
“I know it’s a friendly and it’s pre-season but I scored there and I just kind of cheered and there was nothing. You do kind of lose sight of that a little bit after a year without them but I’m definitely looking forward to having everyone back and the sooner the better.”
While bigger challenges lie ahead than the Malone Cup, Sloggett said Saturday’s victory and performance was another step in the right direction as Filippo Giovagnoli’s side prepare for the start of the new league campaign away to Sligo Rovers on March 20th.
“I mean, it doesn’t really matter who the team is, we just want to have a consistent winning run going into the season.
“We missed out on the game in Derry so we need to make the games we have count now going into the season.
“It was a good performance and I think we created a lot of chances out there and possibly should have scored more but we’re happy overall probably.”
Sloggett was particularly happy to score a rare headed goal, even if it did bring back memories of a big chance he missed in Europe towards the end of last season.
“A couple of the lads were joking about one of the headers I missed in the Europa League, the big chance against Rapid Vienna.
“This was similar, a kind of a glancing one but this one went in.
“I wish it was the other way around but I was just happy to help us continue our winning run into the season,” he smiled.
Before Dundalk really get down to business, there’s the small matter of the President’s Cup final against Shamrock Rovers this Friday. The game at Tallaght Stadium might be a glorified friendly rather than a must-win but Sloggett insists it’s a game he wants to win to help his side put down a marker that they want their league title back.
“Any game you play against Shamrock Rovers you’re not going to take lightly,” he said.
“This will be my first President’s Cup because we didn’t have one last year and I’ll be looking forward to that and if I can nurse my calves properly then things will be looking good for me next week but we’re really looking forward to that game.
“I think the big disappointment last year was not achieving in the league what we felt we should have. We should have been right up there and we need to make that right this year.
“Personally it was good that I broke into the team and and played very consistently all through the year and had a good Europa League group stages but I want to kick on from that, add goals and add different bits and pieces to my game and I think this is the right place to do it,” said Sloggett.
Dundalk’s recent dominance of the Malone Cup continued at Head in the Game Park on Saturday as they made it six wins in-a-row in the annual match against neighbours Drogheda Utd.
While the trophy to honour the late Jim Malone is undoubtedly the least significant of the various pieces of silverware Filippo Giovagnoli’s side will challenge for this season, this result at least ensured that the shortened two game pre-season ends with a 100% record.
It’s now on to the President’s Cup with Shamrock Rovers on Friday before the league opener away to Sligo Rovers eight days later.
While this game threw up a few positives to take into those two matches, it left plenty of food for thought as well.
For while Dundalk look like they’ll score plenty this season, for now at least, they also look like they’ll ship a few goals at the other end too.
Given five of the starting 11 on Saturday weren’t at the club last season and Val Adedokun’s total number of first team minutes up to the end of last season was seven, perhaps it’s not surprising that there are a few things to be worked out.
Some of those kinks weren’t helped by new goalkeeper Alessio Abibi coming for and completely missing a Jake Hyland corner after just five minutes which his side were lucky to scramble clear. The Albanian is under the spotlight more than most right now and he again looked somewhat rattled two minutes later when he had to punch away a cross from James Brown under pressure from Chris Lyons.
With Darragh Leahy playing in an unfamiliar left centre back position and Adedokun showing signs of early nerves, Drogheda targeted this area early on with Lyons popping up with the lead goal on 20 minutes when he got ahead of Andy Boyle to nod Brandon Bermingham’s cross past Abibi.
Dundalk were perhaps unfortunate to be behind at that stage. Sam Stanton was denied what looked a stone wall penalty eight minutes earlier after being felled in the box by Dane Massey with Ryan O’Kane dragging the follow up chance across the goal and wide.
The 17-year-old, who followed up an impressive debut against Bohemians a week earlier with another fine showing here, then delivered a peach of a free kick into the box on the quarter hour mark for Boyle to attack but the centre half somehow failed to find the target with what was a fantastic chance.
O’Kane would have a big role to play in Dundalk’s equaliser on 25 minutes though. After a good link up with Adedokun, he drove into the box before being fouled by Luke Heeney. David McMillan then made no mistake from the spot to send David Odumosu the wrong way.
Tim Clancy’s side almost restored their advantage within a couple of minutes when Daniel O’Reilly played Bermingham in behind Adedokun but his shot was touched into the side-netting by Abibi.
Adedokun, another teenager from the club’s academy, grew into the game after a shaky start and popped up with his first goal for the club on 37 minutes to give Dundalk a 2-1 lead at the break. Stanton did superbly well to release Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe on the right with the former Derry City star’s cross finding its way to Adedokun who controlled with his left foot before firing high to the roof of the net with his right to ensure the home side led at half-time.
Ronan Murray, one of three former Dundalk players starting for the home side on the day, received some advice at half-time to target Abibi based on his position. Within 15 seconds of the restart he would fire just wide but on 52 minutes he would level for his side in spectacular fashion with a superb free kick. While the goalkeeper’s position and setup of the wall were questioned, Murray’s free kick flew to the top left hand corner and suddenly it was game on once again.
Drogheda could and probably should have taken the lead two minutes later as the visitors defence fell asleep. Another Murray free kick saw him disguise a shot only to pick out Lyons in acres of space on the left but his pull back to O’Reilly was blazed over by the centre half.
That scare aside, the introduction of Patrick McEleney saw Dundalk begin to dominate the game and it was the Derry man who conjured up the winner fo his side on 68 minute when he delivered a superb free kick in from the right that Greg Sloggett, from nearby Gormanston, headed past Colin McCabe. If Drogheda had cause for complaint it would be that it looked like Junior had stood on the ball rather than was fouled for the free which led to what proved to be the winner.
Dundalk had plenty of chances to add to their lead after that with Leahy scuffing wide, Junior heading over from a Raivis Jurkovskis cross and McCabe making three good late stops to deny Patrick Hoban twice either side of saving a free kick from Junior.
There was plenty of promise shown from Dundalk once again with Jurkovskis once again looking very useful, Stanton showing good glimpses of his potential and Junior looking like an astute signing.
The flaws at the back, which were also evident in the 2-1 win over Bohemians a week earlier, will need to be ironed out though.
The President’s Cup might be a glorified friendly but it’s a chance for Dundalk to lay down a marker. Let’s see what sort of statement is made.
Drogheda Utd: David Odumosu (Colin McCabe HT); James Brown, Daniel O’Reilly, Dane Massey (Jack Tuite 60), Conor Kane; Luke Heeney, Jake Hyland (Killian Phillips HT), James Clarke (Ryan O’Shea 60); Brandon Bermingham (Jordan Adeyemo 60), Chris Lyons, Ronan Murray (Mohamed Boudiaf 72). Subs not used: Hugh Douglas, Darragh Markey, Sam O’Brien, Charles Mutawe.
Dundalk: Alessio Abibi (Peter Cherrie 60); Daniel Cleary, Andy Boyle, Darragh Leahy; Raivis Jurkovskis, Sam Stanton (Greg Sloggett 60), Chris Shields, Val Adedokun (Jesus Perez 65); Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, David McMillan (Patrick Hoban HT), Ryan O’Kane (Patrick McEleney HT). Subs not used: Mayowa Animashun, German Giammattei.