Dundalk head coach Filippo Giovagnoli has confirmed his interest in bringing Richie Towell back to the club this summer.
The midfielder, currently on the books of Salford City, is rumoured to want to return home to Ireland when his contract expires with the League Two club this summer.
Towell earned legendary status in his three season at Oriel Park from 2013 to 2015 having scored an incredible 54 goals in 126 matches from midfield, including 29 in all competitions as Dundalk won a league and FAI Cup double in 2015 prior to his departure for Brighton & Hove Albion.
Asked would he be interested in Towell if he became available, Givagnoli replied: “Richie is absolutely one of our targets.”
The Lilywhites are likely to have to battle league champions Shamrock Rovers for his signature with Hoops boss Stephen Bradley also confirming his interest in the 29-year-old.
He said: “I really like him and always have. If he’s one who became available we’d definitely be interested because he fits into what we do but a lot has been made of nothing at the moment. He’s a Salford player and he is until the summer.
Dundalk boss Filippo Giovagnoli believes there are a portion of people within the League of Ireland who want to see him fail but says that will only motivate him to achieve bigger and better things this season.
Asked at a virtual FAI event to announce Bank of Ireland becoming an Associate Sponsor of the SSE Airtricity League last week whether the club would need to be patient with him this season, the Italian said he felt they had already shown a level of patience by appointing him in the first place.
“I think the club is patient,” he said.
“Having me is already showing big patience from the club because with all the scepticism I had around me and the criticism the club had to be really patient but they trust me and believe me.
“I’m a hard worker and I’m not going to give up and I know the game so I can handle it. The club believe in me and our staff and we’re going to work together. Like I said, we’re not going to hide. We want to be there to win the league.”
Asked if qualifying for the Europa League group stages and winning an FAI Cup had silenced the doubters, the 50-year-old said: “No, I don’t think so.
“It will never end but I accept this. It doesn’t matter. When I’m under pressure I perform better so I hope they keep on going to say that because they motivate me and I’m not going to relax, I’m going to perform and I’m going to be ready for the challenge.”
Giovagnoli went on to describe how he felt some of the commentary around his appointment as Vinny Perth’s successor last August was “nasty” and “offensive”.
Asked had he read the comments, he said: “Oh yeah, I had people telling me. I did because at the beginning you have to do it because it’s going to help to understand where you are and the environment.
“I don’t want to say this word but it was pretty nasty to be honest, sometimes even offensive personally but it doesn’t matter to be honest. At the end of the day, I love what I do.
“I come here every day and I could even sleep here at Oriel Park for how much I love my job. There is nothing that can hurt me in this way, nothing. Everything is helping me to perform better.”
Asked if he felt there was more pressure on him due to being a coach from overseas who had recruited overseas players, Giovagnoli said: “For sure.
“We’re going to be under the big eye of everyone and the media of course. I think parts of the people want to see us fail because they say if you’re not Irish you cannot play here and if you’re not Irish you can’t coach here. That’s not true.
“Football is the same all over the world. I think the League of Ireland has to open and if you open it then it’s going to become stronger and people will see the league all over the world, it will produce more players and there’s going to be more interest around the league – maybe more sponsors, more more, more business and better opportunities. This is how I see it but this is the vision of the club and my vision.
“I just hope that there is going to be fair judgement but that’s fine, whatever it’s going to be is not a problem, we’re just going to keep on going to work.” Giovagnoli also said he had sought new additions to his squad in Ireland but didn’t feel the right players were available.
“Of course we did but we didn’t find the deal with the players and for some positions, to be honest, the profile of player that we were looking for wasn’t available so we had to go overseas, it was as simple as that.”
Asked if the criticism he had received had annoyed him, Giovagnoli said: “Not really. Any coach in the world, you are the best until the next game and then when you lose a game you become stupid.
“That’s fine, it’s our position and our life and we have to accept this. We just have to not go away from our focus or objectives,” he said.
For the first time in 45 years, Dundalk will open their league campaign with a trip to The Showgrounds to face Sligo Rovers when the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division gets underway next month.
Fixtures for the 2021 campaign were released last Monday evening with Filippo Giovagnoli’s side pencilled in to face a side who beat them home and away last season in the first match on Saturday March 20th.
While Dundalk and the Bit O Red have met four times on the opening day more recently, you have to go back to October 1976 to find the last time it occurred in Sligo.
The most recent opening day meeting between the pair was in 2019 in what was Vinny Perth’s first league match in charge. On that occasion Sean Murray marked his debut with a 49th minute goal that cancelled out Jack Keaney’s opener two minutes before the break as the sides settled for a 1-1 draw. That game was perhaps best remembered, however, for leg breaks sustained by Robbie Benson and Patrick McEleney.
Prior to that Dundalk had last met Sligo on the opening day under Trevor Anderson on March 18th 2004 when Stephen Geoghegan marked his debut with the only goal as the Lilywhites won 1-0 at Oriel Park.
Sligo had the better of things on the opening day of the 1998/99 campaign when two goals inside four minutes from Marcus Hallows and Conor O’Grady earned them a 2-0 victory over Jim McLaughlin’s side at Oriel Park. Prior to that Dundalk had won 2-0, also at Oriel Park, on the opening day of the 1986/87 campaign courtesy of a Martin Murray penalty and a Dessie Gorman strike.
Liam Buckley’s side will hope the visit of Dundalk to The Showgrounds on the opening day is an omen as they went on to win what was just their second league title and first in 40 years when the Lilywhites last visited Sligo on the opening night in 1976/77.
On that occasion, the home side ran out 4-2 winners with the big news beforehand from the perspective of Jim McLaughlin’s side being that regular goalkeeper Richie Blackmore missed out having been injured in the 6-0 European Cup defeat away to PSV Eindhoven a few days earlier with Eddie Mahon taking his place between the sticks.
Despite that, Mick Lawlor gave Dundalk the lead in the game on 5 minutes but Paul ‘Ski’ McGee equalised with the aid of a deflection 20 minutes later before turning provider for Mike Betts on 43 minutes who left it 2-1 at the break.
Sligo added a third on the hour mark through a header from Gary Hulmes but Jimmy Dainty pulled a goal back two minutes later to leave it 3-2. Betts, who had just signed from Rochdale, secured the points for Sligo 13 minutes from time however with a fourth.
The Dundalk side that day was: Mahon, McManus, Brian McConville, McLaughlin, O’Brien (Sheehy 80), Dainty (Flanagan 80), McDowell, Cavanagh, Tommy McConville, Lawlor, Devlin.
The opening home game of the season will come on Friday March 26th when Finn Harps visit Oriel Park and that will be followed by a tricky run which includes the first league meeting against last year’s league winners Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium on April 2nd, followed by back to back home matches against Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic on April 9th and 16th respectively.
That game with Pat’s is the start of a run of three games in a week with a trip to face Derry City pencilled in for Monday April 19th followed by the first Louth derby of the season at Oriel Park on Friday April 23rd when newly promoted Drogheda Utd make the short trip up the M1.
There will be a trip to face Waterford at the RSC a week later before another journey to face newly promoted Longford Town on May 3rd in a match that will complete the first series of games.
Other key dates further along the calendar include the first visit of Shamrock Rovers to Oriel Park on May 21st, a trip to United Park on June 21st and a home fixture against Derry City pencilled in to conclude the season on November 19th when Dundalk will hopefully be lifting some silverware.
Before the league commences, Dundalk will travel to Tallaght Stadium on Friday March 12th to take on Shamrock Rovers in the President’s Cup final while other pre-season fixtures are expected to be finalised shortly after it was confirmed clubs could play friendly matches from February 21st onwards.
Filippo Giovagnoli has hit back at criticism of the club’s recruitment policy and insisted he has full control over who Dundalk recruit ahead of the new campaign.
A number of supporters have been questioning the club’s decision to go outside the SSE Airtricity League for additions to their squad with Alessio Abibi arriving from Albania, Erik Ole Midtskogen and Sonni Nattestad joining from the Faroese league, Raivis Jurkovskis coming from Latvia and Scottish midfielder Sam Stanton signing having most recently been on the books of Phoenix Rising FC in America.
This scepticism of the recruitment policy took another step at the weekend when a fans’ podcast expressed the view that Giovagnoli was “powerless” when it came to recruitment.
Asked about this, the head coach hammered home the point that he was behind all the new signings to date.
“I will be always criticised,” said Giovagnoli.
“Anything I do will be criticised but I don’t give a shit. I know there are many people who don’t like me. I don’t know why but it doesn’t matter. This is really not a problem.
“The players that you see signed were scouted by me, by the staff and by the sporting director. We agreed together to get these type of players. It’s as simple as that.
“We believe that these are players that we can develop, we believe they are players that we can sell later and we believe they are players that can make us win. This is what we believe and the club is moving in this direction.
“I, of course, follow the direction of the club but I make the technical decisions so if I need, for example, a left footed centre back and I try to look in Ireland there is maybe one who I felt wasn’t good enough to replace the player who we were losing so we went overseas.
“It’s simple but I don’t know why people have an issue with that. It’s time to look a little bit bigger. Maybe people are afraid of the unknown but someone has to start. It is what it is though because we’re here, we’re going to work and we’re going to do our best.”
While traditionally clubs within the league have recruited mainly from within, Giovagnoli said it was good to look elsewhere to widen your options.
“I think it’s good to have players from all over the world coming because they’ll make this league more known in other countries. I think this can only be a benefit and I don’t see problems on that even if I know that there is a little bit of concern that we’re not only playing with Irish players and staff.
“I understand that but the way that the world is now football is global, so we need to be open to all sides to make this league more important. It’s not a parochial league. This could be a really important league. We play in Europe so we have to have a different vision in my opinion.”
Giovagnoli added that it was the club’s long-term intention to develop players within their own academy to cut down on the need for overseas recruits.
“It’s not that we won’t pick Irish players but we have to look at things from the long term. These players are going to help Irish players to be better. This has to be the idea.
“Even this thing that if a player goes from Shamrock Rovers to Dundalk or Dundalk to Shamrock Rovers, that you should get the best players from the other teams to make them weaker, I mean no, the league should be stronger and the stronger the league that helps everyone.
“The best players in Ireland don’t stay. They go to play overseas so it’s not sustainable like that. We need help until such time that we develop a system internally that we can develop a lot of players in the youth system. That’s something we want to do. Then we’ll have more talent internally and we’ll need less players from overseas but until you build this kind of model, you need something from outside the country.”
Giovagnoli also dismissed suggestions that his five overseas recruitments would not be good enough to help Dundalk challenge for the title this season.
“People are talking about our players and they don’t even know who they are, what they’ve done in the past and how good or bad they are. They have no knowledge of them at all.
“People who have knowledge are those who watch and study them but other people talking on a podcast, they don’t know shit about football. They’re just talking. It’s like going to the bar and having a talk but let them talk. It’s not important for us,” he said.
Dundalk FC remain hopeful of securing a deal to sign Scottish midfielder Sam Stanton despite interest in him in his homeland.
The Argus exclusively revealed last week that the former Hibernian player was a target for the Lilywhites following his recent release from Phoenix Rising FC in American where he won the Western Conference last year and reached the USL Championship Final, which was cancelled due to Covid-19.
Talks with the 26-year-old former U-21 international have been ongoing in recent days with sources suggesting that a deal could still happen despite strong interest from Scottish Premiership outfit Ross County.
Boss Filippo Giovagnoli has made no secret of the fact that midfield is now his top priority with the need to strengthen in this position heightened by Jordan Flores’ departure for Hull City last week.
A Lithuanian midfielder is also understood to be on the club’s radar but Stanton remains the number one target for now.
A deal for South Korean winger Han Eui-Kwon is also said to be progressing with the 26-year-old expected to shortly wrap up a deal to join Dundalk following his release from Suwon Samsung Bluewings. Young American goalkeeper Alex Rando is also expected to complete his move shortly too with the club remaining in the market for another keeper to provide competition to the recently signed Alessio Abibi.
It is also understood that the club would be interested in bringing Richie Towell back to Oriel Park if the price was right.
The midfielder scored an impressive 54 goals in 126 appearances for the club between 2013 and 2015 before departing for Brighton and Hove Albion. Currently on the books of League Two side Salford City, the 29-year-old will be out of contact in the summer with suggestions that he is eyeing a move home after five-and-a-half years in England.
Currently out injured, it is unlikely that Richie Wellens’ side would contemplate Towell’s departure now despite him having played just 22 minutes since scoring in the 2-2 draw against Tranmere Rovers in October.
As well as Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers are also keeping an eye on the former PFAI Player of the Year’s situation but there are fears his demands could price himself out of a move back to the club where he earned cult status in the number 17 shirt for three seasons under Stephen Kenny.
Meanwhile, it is understood that chief operating officer Martin Connolly has parted company with Dundalk FC after being put on gardening leave by the club in December. A statement on the matter is expected from the club when the ins and outs of his exit are finalised.