Having come painfully close in 2013 to snatching victory in the league, it’s bound to be a monumental task to emulate, and certainly improve on, their efforts.
Being beaten to the post so near to the end of the season means that the players and coaching staff might have a lot of demons to bury if they are to get in the right frame of mind. But the best way to confront those bad memories is to bring back the same top-quality football that brought them so close to glorious victory.
A disappointing past few weeks have seen last season’s runners-up fall to both St. Patrick’s Athletic and the First Division’s Galway FC on a scoreline of 2-1 as well as losing out against Coleraine in a five goal thriller in the first leg of their Setanta Sports Cup tie. Another loss against English League side Barnsley compounded their misery even further.
A 3-0 win over Finn Harps to wrap up their pre-season schedule has served to merely paper over the cracks, and although the build-up to the season and the results are merely academic, it still doesn’t look good.
For their opening day fixture, they face a tricky away trip to Drogheda in the Louth Derby, and while it’s sure to be a feisty affair as always, it could well be the fiery battle Stephen Kenny’s men need to get back to their best.
Last season: 2nd
2014 odds: 6/1
In: Gabriel Sava (Drogheda), Sean Gannon (St. Pats), Daryl Horgan (Cork), Ruaidhri Higgins (Derry), David McMillan (Sligo), George Poynton (East Meath United) and Marc Griffin (Derry)
Out: Stephen McDonnell (Shelbourne), John Dillon (Southport), Aaron Shanahan (Ballymena Utd), John Sullivan (Shelbourne), Tiarnan Mulvenna (Glenavon), Vinny Faherty (Galway), Conor Winn (Finn Harps), Jordan Keegan (Shelbourne), Francis McCafferty (Released) and Nathan Murphy (Released)
Quite a lot has changed in the off-season with a total of over 10 players departing the club for pastures new, while as many as half a dozen performers have decided to join the Lilywhites as they look to make the jump from the league’s nearly boys to champions.
Importantly, key squad member have also renewed their contracts.
Signing Gabriel Sava from cross-county rivals Drogheda United shows a hunger from Kenny to break down borders and bring in some talented performers, even if tensions might increase as a result.
The introduction of Georgie Poynton underlines how keen the Louth-based club are to expand and improve their squad for the future.
A player who openly desires a move to Britain at some stage in his career, Poynton is an ideal player to have in your squad. With buckets of energy and a real desire to perform and impress, don’t be surprised to see him cause a bit of a stir once he gets into his stride. Recently, he converted a penalty against Austria as Ireland U17 ran out 2-1 victors in a friendly at Dalymount Park.
By paying a hefty fee for Cork City’s Daryl Horgan, Dundalk have shown a real signal of their intent.
And although they aren’t quite as adept at getting oh so near, yet oh so far to their targets, as Drogheda (who lost three domestic cup finals in 2013), they are dangerously close to picking up a similar moniker.
A rather attack-minded side who amassed a grand total of 55 goals last season, Dundalk were an exciting outfit to watch at times.
The buzz at Oriel Park for the title-deciding games against St Pats as well as the usual excitement surrounding the Louth derbies made for an excellent atmosphere to watch the Lilywhites play some attractive football.
However, fans will be expecting a bit more defensive consistency and coherence this time around.
With the arrival of cover in between the sticks in the form of Gabriel Sava as well as landing the signing of Sean Gannon, who can switch alternately between midfield and defence, it’s clear that Kenny has zoned in on fixing their lapses at the back.
Strongest XI: Peter Cherrie, John Sullivan, Mark Rossiter, Andy Boyle, Sean Gannon; John Dillon, Stephen McDonnell, Richie Towell, Daryl Horgan; Kurtis Byrne, Pat Hoban.
When the play is flowing through their star man Richie Towell, Dundalk can look like such a fearsome and exciting outfit. Dictating the play with tremendous efficiency and authority, Towell’s pace and directness can be devastating for opposition sides.
However, it’s vital that the PFAI Young Player of the Year is allowed the space and freedom to bring his creative input to matches.
If Kenny can continue to gift Towell the confidence to run directly at defenders and be the playmaker he so desires, Dundalk will once again be a real treat to watch.
With a host of clubs across the channel having expressed interest in the 22-year-old midfielder it’s possible that this could be his last season in the League of Ireland for some time.
But that’s just speculation, and for now, all at Dundalk should just try and relish the chance to watch Towell help drive his side towards silverware.
Keep an eye on
Forking out over €10,000 for Cork City’s Daryl Horgan may well be the type of head-line grabbing move that is often associated with big clubs, but it’s also bound to heap quite a bit of expectation on Horgan’s 21-year-old shoulders.
Having already netted against Coleraine a few weeks ago, Horgan has made encouraging steps towards paying back some of the big fee they paid for him.
Much like Towell, Horgan has also been linked with a few English clubs with the young winger having trials with Barnsley and Torquay United in the recent past.
Make no mistake, though, it’s unlikely he’ll be shipped out any time this season if clubs come back scouting him again - regardless of how highly they bid. After all, the club need a return from their marquee signing, and he has the skills to return their investment with interest.
In fact, the former Sligo Rovers man has already endeared himself to his new club, scoring a terrifically memorable solo goal against none other than Drogheda in the league last season – jinking his way this and that, he left the defenders for dead before cheekily lobbing the ball over the ‘keeper and into the back of the net.
If he can reproduce some of that trickery again, it’s easy to see him making a big impact.
Where will they finish?
A big exodus of players means that Dundalk have a fair bit of reinventing to get on with, but they’ve held on to their key players and have also nabbed a handful of very talented footballers.
It may take time to get into their stride, but once they find their rhythm, they should challenge once again for the league.