Dundalk defender Brian Gartland will undergo a scan today (Tuesday) to determine the extent of the knee injury picked up in the early stages of Friday night’s 2-1 defeat to Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium.
Making his first outing of 2021, the 34-year-old went down in agony while attempting to track a player following a short Rovers free kick inside the opening 30 seconds of the game.
After five minutes of treatment, Gartland was stretched off with fears that he may have suffered an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
That is the same injury that former team-mate Stephen O’Donnell suffered in a 2-2 draw with Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park on Good Friday 2014 which saw him miss the bulk of that campaign before memorably returning to start and score along with Gartland in the 2-0 win over Cork City on the final day which saw Dundalk clinch their first league title in 19 years.
While everyone will hope that Gartland can make a safe and speedy recovery, even in a best case scenario he is set for an extended period on the sidelines which will rob Dundalk of a major defensive option and leadership on and off the field.
Sonni Nattestad remains suspended for Friday night’s clash against Bohemians at Oriel Park (kick-off 7.45pm, live on WATCHLOI) so Filippo Giovagnoli and Shane Keegan will have to play someone slightly out of position if they want to persist with playing three centre halves.
Irish underage international centre back Tom Gaston remains on trial at the club and could be fast-tracked as a signing depending on performances in training although it is understood four or five other trialists were also expected at Oriel Park in the coming weeks even before Gartland’s injury although it is not known if any of these are defenders.
In better news for Dundalk, Daniel Kelly will be hoping to make his return from injury to face his old side on Friday while Central African Republic international Wilfried Zahibo could sign in time for the clash with Bohs, although the match after that against St Patrick’s Athletic remains a greater likelihood due to hotel quarantine arrangements and the knock-on effect that has on a player’s fitness and diet.
Asked about the former Valencia star before the Rovers game last week, team manager Shane Keegan said: “I think we’re very, very nearly there. We’re just trying to box it off collectively.
“I can’t see any circumstances under which it doesn’t happen so I think it’s just about wrapping it up and trying to get it over the line and getting an announcement out there and getting him in with the group.”
Asked would he be available for the clash with The Gypsies, Keegan said: “I’d say it could be a possibility at the moment if we can get him in and get some training sessions into him.”
Keegan also confirmed that American midfielder Taner Dogan and Canadian full back Terique Mohammed had returned to the club having initially been sent out on loan to Athlone Town but neither will be eligible to play for Dundalk until July having initially been registered with the Midlanders.
Both Bohemians and Dundalk, second and third in last season’s curtailed season, have taken just one point from their opening three matches to date and will be looking to kick-start their season at the weekend.
Meanwhile, Dundalk FC last week announced Permanent TSB as their new official banking partner. The partnership will see the Clanbrassil Street branch offer advice and support to club players, staff and supporters alike on financial decisions.
Dundalk team manager Shane Keegan took encouragement from his side’s display despite their wait for a first victory of the season continuing at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night.
The Laois man said there were “an awful lot of positives” on the night despite the 2-1 defeat and expressed the view that his side’s performance was much better than the one against Finn Harps seven days earlier when the Lilywhites lost out on the same scoreline.
Asked if he felt both goals could have been kept out, Keegan said: “I thought there was a difference between the two of them but obviously I’m only seeing them in real time.
“I’m directly behind Danny (Mandriou) as he hits the ball, as soon as it leaves his boot, I think it’s heading into the top corner, maybe it’s different on TV, and the second one, again, I initially didn’t think there was any questions but it has been said to me we could have done better on the second one but jesus if you’re telling me coming here that we’re going to be limiting them to potshots from distance like that… I’ve had a quick look at the numbers and if you told me that it would be six shots on target to three shots on target in our favour coming here, we’re taking those numbers all day long because you’re expecting to come out on the right side.”
Keegan said there were positives to take from the display, particularly in the second half.
“They did look dangerous on the break too to be fair to them but, yeah, look, losing Garts as early as we did threw us off our stride.
“We started with our game plan in the back three and he was very, very important in that. We’ve eventually gone to change shape and looking back on it, there’s no doubt we should have done that sooner. As soon as we lost Garts we probably should have done that.
“We know that on the sideline and we’ve spoken about it in the dressing room and once we have changed to it, yeah we’ve absolutely bossed it from there for the next half an hour. Three off the woodwork is it? I said last week I thought Mark McGinley made a save that was going to be in one of the top three this season but Mannus has topped it with one of the saves there tonight. He was excellent for them in fairness.
“The only thing this week has in common with last week is that we’re coming away with zero points again. Last week was awful, everything we did last week had to be thrown out, and it was start from scratch, that’s absolutely not the case with this week’s performance. This week’s performance had an awful lot of positives, an awful lot we would try to build on and it genuinely shows we are moving in the right direction.”
When it was pointed out that the conversation over the goalkeeper was the same as last week, Keegan said: “Yeah he’s going to be annoyed at himself if there’s mistakes two weeks in a row but without seeing it back, I don’t know whose blame it was at this moment.”
One of the key decisions of the match was to start 17-year-old Ryan O’Kane for the first time but the local youngster was subsequently withdrawn at half-time for Ole Erik Midtskogen.
On O’Kane, Keegan said: “Maybe we got that one slightly wrong.
“He just made such an impact for us last week and looked so good in training that it was a case of rolling the dice a little bit.
“The change is moreso again down to us deciding that we need to do things slightly differently in the second half. If we made a decision to do things differently in the second half and go a bit more direct then it makes sense to replace a 5ft 5in fella with a 6ft 5in fella.
“Ryan is an absolutely fantastic talent, he’s going to get so many minutes this season and he’ll have a huge impact on this season but Ole showed glimpses of why he’s going to be a useful addition as well,” said Keegan.
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 is hopeful his side’s “trojan” performance in winning the President’s Cup against Shamrock Rovers last Friday night will stand to his side when the real business starts this Saturday.
A 4-3 penalty shoot-out victory over the Hoops at Tallaght Stadium ensured a 100pc record for Dundalk in pre-season and speaking afterwards Keegan said he was pleased with the performance.
“I thought we did quite well in the first half in fairness. It was probably 50/50, I’m not saying we were running away with it in the first half or anything but I thought we did do reasonably well.
“I thought both teams were very good in possession in the first two-thirds and then in the final third both teams defensively were well on top.
“There wasn’t a huge amount of chances apart from the goal obviously but a big problem for us last season is that we were starting second halves slowly and unfortunately that was a problem again tonight and that’s something that we have to rectify as quickly as possible. Once we went down to 10, I thought it was an absolute trojan effort.
“I do think a game like tonight helps us get up to speed and gets us to where we want to be in time for Saturday’s game,” he said.
Having also pipped Rovers to the FAI Cup lats December, Keegan said he hopes the win on Friday was another psychological boost for his side and a helping hand in helping the new recruits settle in.
“You have to think it will have some psychological effect,” he said.
“We have them again in three weeks’ time and maybe they’d be thinking we have a little bit of a hoodoo over them.
“In recent games particularly, they probably had the majority of the play in the Cup final and they’ve ended up on the losing side and obviously because we went down to 10 tonight they’ve had the majority of the play and they’ve ended up on the losing side so that’s got to grate with them a little bit. I don’t know if it will work in our favour or not in a couple of weeks’ time but it can’t be a bad thing.
“With all that happened in the game it can’t but have a galvanising effect on the group and the whole thing coming together. A game like that certainly gets the new lads up to speed fairly quickly on what the league is all about. There’s no doubt it will definitely have had a positive effect on things like morale and unity and all of that,” he said.
Keegan also said he thought the red card for Sonni Nattestad was harsh.
“I’m obviously seeing it through a certain set of eyes and I can only give you my interpretation of it. He shouldn’t have left the ground in the manner that he did and that is probably what the ref will argue is the reason for the red but to my mind I didn’t think it justified a red and what annoys me a little bit more – and maybe I’m wrong because I haven’t watched it back on video yet – but I think he initially goes towards the incident reaching for his front pocket which is where his yellow card was but then all hell breaks loose and now all of a sudden he’s reaching for his back pocket where the red card is.
“I don’t really understand how the tackle has managed to change in that time.
“That’s one that I’d really really question how it has gone from one to the other but we would be really disappointed with the card that’s for sure.”
When it was suggested that perhaps he was sent-off for something that occurred in the melee that followed, Keegan said: “You could be right, I don’t know. To be honest with you I was too busy watching Joey O’Brien punch Shieldsy in the ribs two or three times to see what Sonni had done but maybe.”
The Laois man also heaped praise on goalkeeper Alessio Abibi for his penalty heroics.
“He’s mad, that’s for sure. I think we all got to see that tonight,” grinned Keegan.
“Shot stopping is definitely his forte so once it went to penalties we were fairly confident in him being able to do it. We definitely had a huge amount of homework done on the penalties.
“Graham Byas had a massive amount done and we had diagrams drawn out and we were trying to communicate the message out to Alessio as the penalty shoot out was going on but knowing what side a fella is going and actually making the stop are two different things. He’s a big, big boy and he’s athletic and he did really, really well to make the saves.”
Dundalk’s first President’s Cup win came against Shamrock Rovers almost 90 years ago while Rovers’ last win in the competition – which they have won a record 21 times to date – also came against the Lilywhites almost 34 years ago.
Filippo Giovagnoli’s FAI Cup winners will be hoping to lay down a marker for the new season against Stephen Bradley’s league champions this Friday night but it is a fixture that, historically at least, Rovers have had the better of.
You have to go back almost 90 years to the first meeting between the two rivals in the President’s Cup. The first came at the end of the 1930/31 season in May 1931 when the sides played out a 1-1 draw after John Joe Flood’s second half opener for the Hoops was cancelled out by Joey Donnelly.
Dundalk would go on to win their first President’s Cup against the Dublin outfit less than four months later in September at the start of the 1931/32 season when they ran out 7-3 winners at Dalymount Park courtesy of two goals apiece from Joe Cassidy, Joey Donnelly and Henry Hirst, with another from Gerry McCourt.
Rovers would win the next final 3-2 in August 1943 but Dundalk avenged that result in the November 1964 with a 4-2 win courtesy of goals from Billy Kennedy, Tom Kelledy, Ray Bushe and Jimmy Hasty.
Unfortunately that remains the Lilywhites’ last positive result in a President’s Cup final against Rovers who beat them 3-2 in August 1968, 4-3 in August 1969, 3-0 in August 1970 and 3-1 in August 1972.
They made it five President Cup wins in-a-row over Dundalk with a 3-2 win at the start of the 1986/87 campaign before also winning the last match between the pair at the start of the 87/88 season.
On that occasion in November 1987 a 0-0 draw in dreadful conditions at Oriel Park was followed by a 3-1 win for Rovers on penalties. John Cleary had opened the scoring for Dundalk before Gerry Hide equalised. Barry Kehoe then blazed over the next spot kick with subsequent efforts from Francie Callan Jr and Paul Newe saved by Jody Byrne ensuring Rovers claimed the victory after Mick Neville and Harry Kenny had scored for them.
The two sides were due to meet each other in last year’s final at Oriel Park but the game pencilled in for February 9th was postponed on safety grounds due to Storm Ciara.
This year’s final takes place in Tallaght Stadium on Friday night at 7.45pm and will be streamed free to air on the WATCHLOI service. Dundalk will be aiming for their 12th win in the competition on the night as they continue to prepare for their league opener away to Sligo Rovers on March 20th.