Dundalk striker Patrick Hoban admitted he was “embarrassed” by the club’s start to the season and said it was “simply not good enough” that the Lilywhites had just one point from a possible nine on the board following Friday’s defeat to Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium.
In an interview for the club website, the 29-year-old called for his side to take a “long hard look” at themselves and to stop conceding “terrible goals” following serious question marks over Alessio Abibi’s display in the defeat to the Hoops.
After the club’s worst start to a season in 15 years and the worst start to a Premier Division campaign since 1998/99 when they also had a single point from their opening three matches, Hoban opened up on the frustration in the Dundalk dressing room at the manner in which they were conceding goals right now.
He said: “I missed a few chances with hitting the post and stuff like that but at the end of the day when you concede goals like that you’re going to make it a long, long season for ourselves.
“There were a lot of words said in there and we need to start taking a long hard look at ourselves now and make sure that next week that we win. It’s plain and simple, there is no two ways about it.
“I’m a small bit embarrassed to be honest with you, one point from nine, that’s not us so we need to make sure we get things going this week and make sure that we’re ready for Bohs.
“We need three points and we need to stop conceding terrible goals. The goals will come if we keep getting chances like that but we need to stop conceding sloppy goals. It’s frustrating.”
In what was a clear indication of how he and his team-mates rate their goalkeeper, Hoban said the side were giving themselves too much of a mountain to climb by conceding such poor goals.
“It’s frustrating because we had spoke before the game about them taking quick free kicks and stuff like that. It’s really frustrating to concede a goal like that because they played some nice football but they didn’t really hurt us so to concede two goals from 20-plus yards away is very frustrating.
“I thought we done quite well at times. We created chances. We’ve hit the crossbar, I’ve hit the post and the keeper has pulled off some good saves so it was a frustrating night but at the end of the day you’ve a mountain to climb when you’re 2-0 down against anyone in this league and we need to stop doing that to ourselves.”
Not even his second goal of the season late on lifted Hoban’s spirits.
“That goal doesn’t count,” he said.
“We’ve lost the game. We need to stop losing games and we need to stop conceding bad goals. If you do that against any team it’s a mountain to climb and it’s literally impossible to try and get back in the game.
“We didn’t start well today and you could see that. They kind of boxed us there for the first 10 minutes and it was highly frustrating. We got into it but if you’re going to switch off for free kicks and stuff like that then you’re going to get punished in this league. You’re going to get punished and we did and it was the same for the second goal as well. If we keep doing that it’ll be a long season so we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and make sure we correct all the problems for next week.”
Hoban said it was now imperative that Dundalk won at all costs at home to Bohemians on Friday night (kick-off 7.45pm, live on WATCHLOI) to kick-start their season.
“We need to get going now next week and not feel sorry for ourselves. We can’t afford to because before we know it we will be out of the title race.
“It’s so early in the season for me to say that and I never thought I would have to say that but I’m actually embarrassed that we have only one point from three games, completely embarrassed, and it needs to change for next week.
“I’m not used to losing games of football for Dundalk FC and that’s why I’m highly embarrassed so we need to make sure that we train well next week and make sure we go into Bohs next week and get three points, plain and simple. We need to start winning games of football because at this moment in time, it’s simply not good enough,” said Hoban.
Shane Keegan has admitted Dundalk need to improve off the field as when as on it if they are to improve as a club.
For the third week in-a-row, the weekly press conference at Oriel Park last Wednesday was dominated by a talking point not directly related to the upcoming game.
In the latest debacle, Dundalk were shocked to learn that Sonni Nattestad would be banned for two matches following his President’s Cup red card, with the Faroe Islands defender set to miss the crunch games with Shamrock Rovers on Friday and Bohemians on April 9th as the first match of his ban couldn’t count against Finn Harps last weekend because he was on international duty.
Speaking about the matter, Keegan said: “We need to do our homework a little better.
“There has been a bit of turnover in the last while in terms of staff and we maybe weren’t as clued in as we needed to be.”
While Keegan’s comments highlight the fact that there isn’t a strong enough understanding of the FAI rules, supporters have been left increasingly frustrated by poor communication from the club in recent months.
On a personal note, I have made nine attempts to renew a season ticket dating back to last November with requests made in person and via email ignored while phone calls to Oriel Park have gone unanswered. I’m not alone in this regard.
Furthermore, as a player sponsor for the last few years it was surprising that I wasn’t asked again this year. Again, I’m not alone with one supporter of the club who has provided sponsorship over a 50 year period contacting me on Friday wondering why he hadn’t been asked. Those complaints might seem small fry but with 29 player sponsorship opportunities vacant as per Friday’s programme, that equates to income of over €10,000 that the club are potentially missing out, not to mention the loss of season ticket revenue.
For much of the past year the club has provided more drama than shows like Fair City and the simple things not being done is impacting the mood of a number of people at Oriel Park, most notably the players.
Friday’s match against Finn Harps might have been the first at Oriel Park this year but even last year after Harry Taaffe’s passing the usual sight of the pitch being brushed before kick-off and watered has been absent with no one seemingly taking up a task which infuriates the team when it doesn’t happen.
Keegan himself has spent much of the past few weeks and months dealing with paperwork in the office. For someone who is supposed to be the top man at the club now, that shouldn’t be his job. It’s almost the equivalent of hiring an architect to design an extension for your home and instead getting him to cut the grass.
Padraig McGowan has recently been appointed club secretary and while he has been a magnificent servant and supporter of the club over a long period, he is ultimately a volunteer who has a full time job in Dublin that is, rightly so, his priority.
For a club that is supposed to be the biggest in the country and aiming to be ‘the European club in Ireland’ it is baffling that the simple tasks are being overlooked and that jobs of great importance are being given to volunteers at a time when players are being recruited for presumably big sums from across the globe, some of whom will never be good enough for the first team.
As Keegan pointed out, there has been a high turnover of staff over the winter but Jim Magilton is now in his role as sporting director for three months.
He has brought some improvements already – that’s not in question – but it’s baffling that the club is in a situation where there are regular drone cameras flying above Oriel Park for promotional videos and yet the club can’t seem to respond to emails or pick up the phone.
A bit like the results on the field so far, the club must do better off it.
Dundalk are set to finally land a South Korean winger after being frustrated in their initial attempts.
Over the winter Han Eui-gwon had agreed terms for a move to Oriel Park from K League side Suwon Samsung Bluewings but failure to secure a work permit having been just one appearance shy of the quota required scuppered a move for the 26-year-old who has since signed for Seoul E-Land in his homeland.
Now Dundalk have turned their sights to another of his countrymen.
It is understood that the man in question is Han Jeong Woo, a 22-year-old right winger who has been capped at both U-18 and U-22 level for his country.
He is a free agent having departed Suwon FC in January after helping them to promotion to the top flight after a runner-up finish in K League 2 last season.
The player is understood to be currently in Ireland with his agent so a deal could be completed this week.
Speaking to The Argus earlier in the year, sporting director Jim Magilton had spoke about expanding the brand in Asia.
“We’re looking to expose and expand the brand as far as possible but he’s also a good player,” he said of Eui-gwon.
“If we can attract players from that part of the world it means that the Dundalk FC brand gets more exposure, the league gets more exposure and it could then open opportunities for other players to come into the league and we know that Korean players bring a fantastic attitude and work ethic and they’re top, top people,” said Magilton.
A potential move for Jeong Woo may not be Dundalk’s only business this week either. As revealed in last week’s Argus, Central African Republic international midfielder Wilfried Zahibo is expected to sign upon his arrival from France and he could be joined by fellow French born defender Tom Gaston. The former Bordeaux player, who has been capped at U-19 level by Ireland, trained with Dundalk last week. Australian goalkeeper Patrick Beach is also on trial with the Lilywhites at present with Armagh GAA goalkeeper Niall Brady also training with the first team.
With Raivis Jurkovskis and Sonni Nattestad away on international duty for Friday night’s home game against Finn Harps and Brian Gartland struggling with an injury that saw him press pre-season, Gaston could also be fast-tracked into the side if he impresses.
Dundalk had been hoping that the Finn Harps game, which kicks off at 5.45pm on Friday, would be postponed due to international call-ups but the club only discovered last Tuesday morning that this would not be possible due to what team manager Shane Keegan described as “one of the strangest rules” he has seen.
Clubs can have games called off if two or more players are away on international duty but this only applies to call-ups for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
With goalkeeper Alessio Abibi also said to be on the fringes of the Albanian squad that could leave Dundalk without several key players for not only the Finn Harps match this weekend but also the trip to face Waterford on September 3rd, the home fixture with reigning champions Shamrock Rovers on October 8th and the Louth derby with neighbours Drogheda Utd in the penultimate game of the season on November 12th.
Keegan called for the rule to be revised ahead of next season.
“In fairness to the FAI, the explanation I got was that this is a rule set out in the participation agreement which is something technically agreed by the clubs. It’s very black and white so we can’t argue.
“There’s no room for manoeuvre there really.
“We have plenty of quality there and it’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t become an issue by others stepping up to the plate.
“I think it’s something that the clubs will need to look at before the start of next year.
“I suppose it was something that was agreed without much thought because we didn’t really have mass volumes of internationals from outside of the Republic. I don’t really understand what the thinking was behind it but the FAI’s argument is that it’s not our rule, it is the participation agreement which is something that you’re involved with coming up with.
“It seems a very, very strange one because Abibi could be called up too. He has been in the past and he’s going to be in with a chance of being called up so it seems a strange one and it’s going to make life a little bit more difficult on ourselves but look we have good strength in depth too so we just have to try and cope with it,” he said.
Meanwhile, Shamrock Rovers’ trip to face Derry City this weekend has been postponed after Candystripes goalkeeper Nathan Gartside was called into the Northern Ireland squad. Asked would it give Dundalk an advantage to be playing ahead of the meeting of the two sides next week in Tallaght on April 2nd, Keegan said: “It all depends on the result against Finn Harps.
“If we get a win next weekend and we have momentum heading into the Rovers game then it definitely works in our favour all right. That’s the only way I can look at it really that if you get the win you have that bit of momentum whereas they might be caught a little bit cold but these things are always looked at with revision in that the result will dictate everything.
“If we beat Rovers in that game and we’ve played the week before then everybody will say Rovers were a bit rusty because they hadn’t had a game the previous week whereas if they beat us people will say they had more energy because they hadn’t played the previous week so it’s going to be the same either way,” said Keegan.
Dundalk boss Shane Keegan feels his side couldn’t have asked for a much tougher start to the season than the one the fixture computer has thrown up.
After Saturday’s trip to face a Sligo Rovers side who were the most in-form side apart from Shamrock Rovers after the league resumed after its Covid-19 enforced break last summer, the Lilywhites are set to face a Finn Harps side who also finished last season in impressive fashion.
After that is a return trip to Tallaght to face the champions on April 2nd followed by the visit of last season’s runners-up Bohemians to Oriel Park on April 9th. This will be followed by three further games in quick succession at home to St Patrick’s Athletic on April 16th, away to Derry City on April 19th and at home to Drogheda on April 23rd.
For a side who traditionally start slow, on paper at least the start to the season couldn’t be much tougher.
“It’s about as tough as you could ask for as a start because you’re playing all the rest of the top half of the table teams pretty much straight off the bat,” said Keegan as he looked ahead to the start of the season this weekend.
“It’s definitely as tough as it gets not only in terms of the opposition but if you look at April and, particularly if the Harps game gets pulled and re-fixed, there’s already a date in the calendar for when it could get put back in and that’s April 13th I think which would then mean that we would end up having seven games in the month of April which would be a really tough test so early in the season to be cramming in that many games.
“Looking at it from a physiological point of view, you’d like the bodies to be a little bit more wintered before they have to go through that amount of games but at the same time if we can get everybody back fit, which we are working towards, we do have pretty good strength in depth and you’d hope you’d be able to cope with it in that sense.”
First up for Dundalk is a Sligo side who, despite losing last season’s top scorer Ronan Coughlan to St Patrick’s Athletic, have strengthened with the acquisitions of Greg Bolger, Colm Horgan, Jordan Gibson, Walter Figueira, Robbie McCourt and Romeo Parkes to name but a few with local youngster Johnny Kenny also proving majorly impressive in pre-season.
Speaking about Liam Buckley’s men, Keegan said he feels they’re not an opponent who can be taken lightly.
“They’re a decent side,” he said.
“They’ll have to have expectations of doing very well this season. I’ve watched them once or twice already in pre-season and they’re very well balanced. They’re starting to look more and more like a Liam Buckley side.
“I think the second half of last season was the first time you’d have looked at them and started to see his imprint on them. What I’ve seen in pre-season they look even more like a Liam Buckley side now than they ever did.
“I think Greg Bolger’s recruitment is probably the key one in that sense. Colm Horgan has gone in there as well. I had Colm at Galway and he’s another fella who is very comfortable on the ball. I think they’ll be a team who will try and have as much a monopoly on the ball as possible. They’ll be really steady.
“No more than any of us because we’ve lost players and Rovers have lost players but the big one for Sligo is how they cope with not having Ronan Coughlan because he did have a very, very good year for them last year, there’s no doubt.
“It’s between Romeo Parkes and John Kenny to fill that void and obviously John Kenny, in particular, has set things alight in pre-season. If they manage to get that part of it right they’ll be a great side.
“I think in the first two thirds of the field they’ll be as good as anything around but if they manage to get the final third right as well then they’ll be a serious outfit,” said Keegan.
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 this weekend.
While the Lilywhites 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.