Brian Gartland and Dundalk in good shape for new campaign
Experienced defender says champions primed for the bid to retain their title
Brian Gartland: “I think we’re in the best shape we’ve ever been in going into the new season,” said the experienced Dundalk defender. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
The bad news for the rest of the league is that, as they embark on an attempt to win a fifth league title in six seasons, Dundalk defender Brian Gartland reckons the club is in a better place ahead of their first game than in any year he has been there.
“I think we’re in the best shape we’ve ever been in going into the new season,” says the Dubliner ahead of Friday’s opening game against Sligo Rovers.
“We’ve had a great preseason and normally we’ve lost three, four, five of our best players but we’ve kept most of the group this year and there’s a really great feeling around the squad: it’s the same players, the same staff...”
Well, not entirely, perhaps, but player-wise Dundalk are almost at full strength for their opener with just Jamie McGrath ruled out of a game in which a new-look Sligo side will be aiming to cause an upset.
Dundalk have suffered a couple of them on opening days in recent years but Rovers have not fared well against the Oriel Park outfit over the past couple of seasons.
Still, manager Liam Buckley prefers to look on the bright side.
“I think we’ve brought good players to the club. We’ll go there with a belief we can get a positive result and we’re very much looking forward to it.”
Ronan Murray (ankle) and David Cawley (knee) will have late fitness tests ahead of the game while Ronan Coughlan, the 23-year-old striker signed on Thursday afternoon from Cork City, is likely to go straight into the squad.
“They’ll probably know more about us than we will about them,” says Dundalk first team coach, John Gill, “but we’ve had them watched a couple of times and we know enough to expect a tough game.”
Cork City are at Richmond Park where the home support will get their firmest sense yet of what life is going to be like under new boss Harry Kenny.
“Expectations are high and I’d like to dampen them down a bit but I can’t, it’s not that easy; everybody is talking about St Patrick’s athletic and the players we have signed,” says the former Bray boss who has had concerns this week about Brandon Miele and Dean Clarke,
“I’d probably have preferred an easier start to the season to be honest, Cork have done really well over the last few seasons and have a group of maybe 14 players down there who have been together for a long time; that puts them a bit ahead of us. That said, it will be a really good measure of where we are.”
City have doubts about Gearóid Morrissey and Karl Sheppard.
Shamrock Rovers, meanwhile, are at Waterford where the away section is apparently a sell-out. The Dublin club’s squad looks stronger than last year and there should be debuts for some of the bigger name signings although Orhan Vojic’s clearance remained an issue as of Thursday afternoon.
“It’s good that Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff have been in since the first day,” says Stephen Bradley. “The new players have had a lot of time around the group to get to know each other. It’s great to have Trevor Clarke back too, you’d forget that he was missing for all of last year. He’s going to be an important player for us this season.”
The two promoted sides have tricky evenings ahead with UCD heading to the Brandywell to face Derry and Finn Harps making the first of many treks to Dublin for a game at Dalymount Park. Ollie Horgan will be missing Mark Timlin (knee) and, more disappointingly perhaps, on the opening night of the new season, Keith Cowan due to work commitments.