Dundalk face being without Patrick McEleney for up to a month after the midfielder picked up a new injury in training last week.
The Derry man had faced the media last Wednesday ahead of Friday night’s game against Finn Harps – which the Lilywhites lost 2-1 – and had spoken about his desire for a run in the side after an injury-disrupted couple of seasons.
However, it is understood that the midfielder pulled a hamstring in training on Thursday which will rule him out of this Friday’s crunch match against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium (kick-off 7.45pm, live on RTÉ Two), as well as potentially several other games.
Speaking about his injury problems last week, McEleney said: “It’s been bad. It’s no secret that I had a bad year with injuries last year but I’ve come back really well and I’ve had nothing so I’ll be doing my best to stay injury free.”
Asked was there one injury he could trace his problems back to, he said: “I broke my foot in the first game against Sligo in 2019 and it was just one after another after that.
“When I came back from that I played about 20 odd games in a row and then in the FAI Cup semi final away to Sligo later in the year I slipped and tore my hamstring. It just seemed to be one thing after another. It was just so stop start. “I did manage to play in most of the big games last year but if I can stay injury free, it will be so much better.”
The 28-year-old had also spoken of his desire to contend for the PFAI Player of the Year award last week having been runner-up to Seani Maguire in 2017.
“The year when I came second in the Player of the Year, I had one injury that season. The next year I had the Player of the Year award as a target but that’s when I had all of the breakdowns and injuries and it was the same the following year.
“It is one of my targets, though, and I know what I can do when I’m injury free. I’m my own biggest critic and I don’t doubt myself if I can say injury free.”
McEleney won’t be Dundalk’s only absentee against Rovers with Sean Murray and Ole Erik Midtskogen remaining sidelined and Sonni Nattestad – who became the first Dundalk player since Joey Donnelly in 1936 to score on international duty for the Faroe Islands in their 3-1 defeat to Austria in Vienna on Sunday – facing a two match ban for his red card in the President’s Cup final earlier this month.
Despite being away on international duty for Friday’s defeat to Finn Harps, Dundalk were dismayed to discover that the clash with the Donegal men wouldn’t count towards the defender’s ban so he will also miss the visit of Bohemians to Oriel Park on Friday week, April 9th.
Team manager Shane Keegan said: “I just can’t wrap my head around it. Surely it has to be one or the other. Either the game gets called off because of it or, if the game isn’t called off, then one of his suspension games gets used up. I just cannot wrap my head around it but it is what it is and there is no point whinging about it now.
“I don’t really have a problem with him missing the Shamrock Rovers game; the problem is with him missing the Bohs game the following week. That’s the real kick in the gut but you have to be careful what you say here.”
In better news for Dundalk, injured pair Daniel Kelly and Val Adedokun will hope to step up their return to first-team affairs this week while Brian Gartland could also come into contention having been an unused substitute against Finn Harps on Friday.
As exclusively revealed by The Argus Dundalk also completed a move for South Korean winger Han Jeong Woo last week with the 22-year-old making his debut by playing the final 10 minutes of the defeat to Finn Harps.
Keegan said he and Ryan O’Kane were the two positives to take from the defeat.
On O’Kane, the Laois man said: “I thought he was absolutely when he came on.”
Keegan said it hadn’t been his intention to use Han so soon but was pleased with his early promise.
“It was necessity. He’s had one collective training session and yet I think you saw why we’re kind of excited about him as well. By that stage we had McMillan and Hoban on the pitch so you’re looking to get as many crosses into the box and he’s got a sweet left foot. I thought he put in a couple of fantastic deliveries so there are positives there to take away but we need to build on them and we just need to find another three, four or five gears because it is in us.”
Keegan also admitted in his programme notes for Friday’s game that the club were hopeful of bringing in former Valencia midfielder Wilfried Zahibo but that deal is unlikely to be completed in time for him to face Rovers.
On the 27-year-old, he said: “With Wilfried, we’re pretty much there and now it’s just about trying to get everything boxed off.
“He is the complete central midfielder and he would give us a tremendous presence. Some players have brilliant technical ability but might not have the same physicality while some have tremendous physicality and aren’t quite as technical. Wilfried ticks both boxes and is the complete midfielder so hopefully we can get it finalised in the near future.”
Meanwhile, Dundalk last week announced two new commercial deals with local businesses RockSalt and XXI Ice coming on board as sponsors. RockSalt, who have outlets in Blackrock and Earl Street in Dundalk, are the club’s new official Good Food Partner while XXI Ice, who are based on Clanbrassil Street, have become the official Premium Hand Rolled Ice Cream partner.
Shane Keegan has stressed the importance Patrick McEleney staying fit could be for Dundalk this season.
The midfielder has been unable to get a decent run together in recent years due to almost constant injury problems but showed his undoubted quality once again on Saturday by running the show in the second half against Drogheda Utd and supplying the winner for Greg Sloggett in the 68th minute.
Asked about the Derry man after the game, Keegan admitted Dundalk looked more threatening whenever the 28-year-old was on the pitch.
“He’s just different. He’s just completely different like. He is just constantly scanning like.
“If you’re an opposition manager every time the ball is at his feet, you must be on tenterhooks because he’s just constantly looking to find that hole to try and create instantly.
“When he’s on the field we just look extra threatening all the time naturally enough.”
Keegan is also hopeful that Greg Sloggett’s goal will give him confidence as he looks to kick-on from a decent opening season at Oriel Park.
“Yeah, look Greg is as a solid as you can get easy he’s a great bit of stuff. He has just got a tremendous engine but if you look at the bodies now that we’ve got in the centre of the field because Sam (Stanton) has done really well today.
“I mean the build up for Val’s goal, his first touch to get out of a tight situation right in front of me there in the dugout was fantastic so there are real, real options and competition for places there in the centre of the field now which is great.”
Dundalk midfielder Patrick McEleney has declared himself ready for action after making his return from injury against Finn Harps on Friday night.
The 27-year-old hadn’t featured for the first team since picking up a hamstring injury in the 1-0 win away to Sligo Rovers in the FAI Cup semi-final at the end of last September.
Having missed out on the run-in to the league and last November’s Cup final, McEleney had been hoping to hit the ground running this season but an Achilles problem curtailed his involvement in the early weeks of the season.
Speaking to The Argus after Dundalk’s 4-0 win over Finn Harps on Friday though, the Derry native said it had finally been resolved and he says his fitness is now in such a good place that he feels ready to start against St Patrick’s Athletic on Friday should he be called upon.
“It’s brilliant to be back,” he said.
“It has been a long time. I picked up an injury in pre-season and just couldn’t shift it. It was a really frustrating one to be honest with you but I’m just happy to be back now.
“My Achilles just kept swelling up and I just couldn’t shift it. I was doing everything I could to sort it and just nothing was working for me but thankfully Danny (Miller) and Murph (David Murphy) got it right in the end.
“It’s perfect now. I’ve no pain whatsoever so it’s all gone and that’s a credit to the medical staff.”
McEleney admitted that the last few weeks have been frustrating but is now hopeful he can force his way back into the side.
“After missing the Cup final and the end of last year I was thinking I’d have a good pre-season and get myself right. You have this perfect plan in your head but it doesn’t always work out but I’m back now and I was just delighted to get a run-out tonight and I’m already looking forward to next week now.
“I’ve been doing cardio nearly every morning before the lads even come in. There’s no hiding place in Dundalk when you’re injured. It’s really tough as everyone knows so I feel I’m ready.
“I definitely want to be involved on Friday night. It’s up to me now to have a good week in training and show I should be involved. Whatever is decided then is up to the staff but I’ll be ready,” he said.
Dundalk midfielder Patrick McEleney is hopeful of kicking on in the coming weeks after ending a nine-and-a-half month goal drought with a brace against Finn Harps on Friday night.
The 26-year-old hadn’t found the net in a competitive fixture since his header won the Lilywhites the FAI Cup final against Cork City at the Aviva Stadium last November.
However, he is hopeful for better times ahead after marking his 100th start for the club with two goals and a man of the match display on Friday night.
Having suffered a dip in form which saw him lose his place in the side for the recent European double header with Slovan Bratislava, McEleney said he was hopeful he could take confidence from his display against the Donegal side.
“The goals have been a long time coming so I’m over the moon with that but the main thing was just getting the three points tonight,” he said.
“It wa probably good just for a bit of confidence I think. I think I did all right the other night when I came on against Bratislava but there’s a lot more to come from me and I hope I can do it.
“It does annoy you when you’re not scoring. It sticks in your mind to be honest. I’m not usually in this position, I usually have a few goals by now, but it is what it is. I’m playing a bit deeper as well too and I’ve been changing position a bit so I’ll just use that as an excuse,” he laughed.
The Derry man praised his side’s professional approach to Friday night to ensure there was no European hangover like in previous seasons when they dropped points after Europe.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game because they’ve been doing quite well. We were setup correctly and I think we done the business rightly.
“It’s just about building on this now. We’re playing now in every trophy over the next couple of weeks and we want to win everything so we’ll do our work right.”
While the result of Monday night’s EA Sports Cup semi-final at home to Bohemians wasn’t known at the time of going to print, McEleney said the squad had targeted a treble even though their two cup fixtures this week, including Friday night’s trip to face his hometown club Derry City, were as difficult as could be.
“We obviously talk about the treble in the changing room and we’ll be looking to do it.
“I think we slipped up last year and everybody knows that. It’s not usually like us. We don’t usually do things like that but we’ll be looking to do the business now.
“It got away last year. We were in a great position to win everything but we just had an off day and we let it slip but hopefully we don’t do the same again,” he said.