Robbie Benson is almost certainly out of Dundalk's Europa League tie in St Petersburg on Thursday. The 24-year-old midfielder is struggling to recover from a hamstring injury picked up in Friday night's SSE Airtricity League win over Galway United.
The injury is not considered especially serious and manager Stephen Kenny has not ruled him out of Sunday's FAI Cup final. But the former UCD player, who scored in the home game against Zenit, will be travelling today primarily to continue receiving treatment from the team's physiotherapists.
“I’d have taken a draw the other night to not lose Robbie,” said Kenny. “That was a big blow for us because he’s really in an explosive run of form. He’s really come out of his shell and found his feet; found an extra bit of acceleration and confidence. He knows what he’s doing, he has adapted tactically to challenges we’ve asked of him and would definitely have started on Thursday.”
At least he should be back for Sunday's game at the Aviva Stadium. Shane Grimes will miss that and faces an anxious wait to see if his career might be threatened by his much more severe hamstring injury, which was sustained in the opening stages of last Tuesday's defeat to St Patrick's Athletic.
The defender, who is from Dundalk, had featured in every round of the cup and was in with a strong shout of starting the final. Instead he must wait to see if an injury, similar to the one that ultimately ended Paul O'Connell's career, might similarly threaten his.
“It was a strange day for him,” said his manager. “He was up all night because his child was born that morning and then he captained the team that night and had to come off within minutes. Just unusual circumstances, and very difficult for him. He played in every round of the cup, but he misses the final obviously.”
Battered and bruised
will not be on the team flight either, due to a family illness, but the rest of the players are available, even if a few are feeling a little battered and bruised. Stephen O’Donnell may have to settle for starting just one of this week’s two games as he has only just returned from a hamstring problem himself.
“I’ll sit down with Stephen and see how he trains,” said Kenny. “Obviously he has missed a week with a hamstring, and two games in four days . . . He has played just an hour. We have to be completely ready for this as there is a real challenge going into their backyard with their formidable record and their quality. We must be ready, really ready.”
Daryl Horgan reckoned he was ready, saying with a smile that he had already lined up his cup final tickets for friends and family and sorted out his suit for Sunday.
The winger had another weekend to remember, first celebrating the successful defence of the league title with the rest of the team after Friday night’s game, then heading the next night to Dublin, where he was named the PFAI’s Player of the Year.
“It was nice to get the award,” he said. “Obviously those types of awards [the ones where other players do the voting] are great, but they don’t really get me going. I’m more interested in trophies than anything else. You can’t beat winning the league. You can’t compare that to an individual award; it’s just nowhere near it, to be honest.”
He is, of course, keen to win the cup too and make it back-to-back doubles, but it is getting to the next round of the Europa League that would actually be more likely to influence his thinking on whether to stay on or try his luck in England when the January window comes around.
"It would be huge," he said. "I've said it before, I'm not going to go to another club in England or wherever and play in the Europa League or the Champions League. There's no hope of that really. So to be in the last 32 of the Europa League would be absolutely incredible."
On the face of it, this game in St Petersburg is not the one that is likely to decide whether the team goes through, with the home tie against AZ in a few weeks looking more central to the Irish side’s prospects at this point.
But Horgan insisted that there will be no sense of surrender now because they are away to the group’s most expensively assembled side.
“I think there’s expectation now because of what we’ve done,” said the 24-year-old. “I think at the start everyone thought we’d be the whipping boys, but because of the way that we’ve played we’ve brought expectation on ourselves, and that’s fantastic.
“But there’s no point in getting too overwhelmed by it. We’ll try our best to get a result in St Petersburg, but then we’ll come in and get the head straight on for Sunday. And I suppose it helps that it is a cup final, because it’s a massive occasion, a massive crowd and special for everyone.”