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.
Peter Cherrie insists he has not come back to Oriel Park to sit on the bench after re-signing for Dundalk almost six years and four months on from his last game for the club.
As first revealed by The Argus, the 37-year-old goalkeeper sealed an emotional return to the club he first joined from Clyde in his native Scotland back in the summer of 2009 last week.
In his initial spell at Oriel Park, Cherrie made 237 appearances for the club and won an EA Sports Cup and league title in his final season in 2014.
Since then he has had spells at Cliftonville, Bray Wanderers, Cork City and Derry City with his future very much up in the air following his release by the Candystripes at the end of last season.
However, Cherrie’s career has been given a lifeline in the wake of being invited in to train with his old club recently by former team-mate and current Dundalk FC academy manager Stephen McDonnell.
Now having secured a contract for the forthcoming season, Cherrie told dundalkfc.com that he is not just here to sit on the bench and wants to push Albanian Alessio Abibi for the starting position between the sticks.
“It has never been in my nature to come and sit on a bench. It’s just not in me. If that day comes then I may as well retire,” he told the Black and White Town podcast.
“I know a lot of people go on about me being 37 but that really doesn’t matter. To be honest it gets on my nerves when people say that because at the end of the day it’s all about how the body feels. If I can still do it out on the pitch and the boys are confident in me then that’s all I need to know.
“You look at the likes of Buffon going on into his 40s and that shows age doesn’t matter. It’s all about the body.
“I’m not here to sit on the bench and hope I get in. I’m here to push every single day and I will work every single day and I’ve told the boss that as well because I might only have a couple of years or a year left in me so I’m going to come in every day as if it’s my last.”
Cherrie, who still lives locally in Ardee, said he was as surprised as anyone that the move came about.
Asked what he would have said if he had been told he would be back at Oriel Park just a few weeks ago, he said: “I’d have probably said no chance, it’s never going to happen because I know all the success Dundalk have had over recent years and people would probably have said Peter is getting on a bit and he’s not at that level but when I got the call I thought ‘yeah, I know I’ve still got it so I’m going to give it a push’ and now I’m absolutely delighted.
“It came about because of Stephen McDonnell, who I know very well. I was just chatting away with him and he said to me about maybe coming in and training with Dundalk. I said it would make more sense because it’s local and easier.
“He phoned me up one night and said the boss said you can come in and train no problem and it just sort of steamrolled from there and I’m absolutely delighted that it did,” said Cherrie.
Dundalk head coach Filippo Giovagnoli is hoping his side’s new recruits give the team an element of surprise in the early weeks of the season.
While most of the new additions to squads across the league this winter are well known here, there is most certainly an unknown element to Dundalk’s five new recruits to date: goalkeeper Alessio Abibi, defenders Sonni Nattestad and Raivis Jurkovskis, midfielder Sam Stanton and forward Ole Erik Midtskogen.
“This is beautiful for the league,” said Giovagnoli.
“Here in every game you know what to expect so now maybe you won’t know what to expect and that’s nice. I think it’s important.”
While traditionally slow starters over the years, Giovagnoli is hoping his side can hit the ground running as they attempt to wrestle the title back from Shamrock Rovers.
“We don’t want to start slow, we want to start strong. We want to make a statement right away. We’re going to be really aggressive from the beginning. I’ve no doubt on that. We are working for that.
“I think if we have our best team on the pitch then we’re going to be really strong. I hope to have headaches every weekend and I think I will because even with the new players that we’re going to sign we will have almost two players for every position so then they have to fight for their position.”
Dundalk face a difficult start to the new season with games against three of last year’s top four in their opening four league matches but Giovagnoli is confident his side will be ready for the challenge.
“In this league I don’t think there are any easy games. Whether you play someone in the third game or sixth game, it’s not going to change much.
“We just need to be ready and healthy and fit for the start of the league and we’re going to be. We just need to recover the players that are injured and then we’ll be okay because our team is strong.”
The Italian is also keen to see how Shamrock Rovers look this season having lost Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff to APOEL and Hearts over the winter.
“Shamrock will be a different team from last year because without Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff it’s going to be a different team. They cannot be the same.
“Nobody is going to be the same but of course if you replace a player with a player that you know then at least you know their individual characteristics but the way that they play is going to be different for sure. The style will change for sure but let’s see how they look. I’m curious because I’m a student of the game and I like this kind of challenge,” he said.
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 head coach Filippo Giovagnoli is hopeful of having a full squad available for the start of the season next month.
At present up to half a dozen key players have yet to train with the rest of the squad due to injuries of varying scale.
However, speaking to The Argus on Sunday, Giovagnoli said he was confident almost all would have a good chance of being back either for the President’s Cup tie with Shamrock Rovers on March 12th or the league opener away to Sligo Rovers eight days later.
He said: “We have injuries that we’ve carried over from last year with Pat Hoban, Sean Murray and Daniel Kelly and even Mickey Duffy has something from last year.
“They are the ones that we have to observe more right now to make sure we have them back in March.
“Then we have a few minor injuries like Brian Gartland and Patrick McEleney but they’re really minor injuries and it should just be a matter of a few days.
“The four that I mentioned are the ones that are going to take a little bit longer but still I think I’m going to have them available for the President’s Cup or at least the first game.
“They are progressing a lot but we’re not going to push them or risk anything but I think by the middle of March we’re going to be in a different position.”
The Italian said that, despite those six absentees, pre-season training had gone well so far with the club’s five new signings all settling in well.
“They have completely confirmed the idea that I had about them,” he said of the new arrivals.
“They are doing well and they have a lot of potential. They’ve shown already their potential. They’re going to do well in this league and they’ve come here really motivated to do well. They are young players and I think that they can build a good future in Dundalk. They’re going to perform.
“I’m happy about all the new players. All of them are really good. We lost some players but we’ve replaced them with really good quality. To be honest, I’m really, really happy and this is just the start for them,” he said.