As they prepare to get their league title defence under way on Friday evening against Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park, Dundalk will have an unfamiliar look. The likes of Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle and Ronan Finn have departed, while injuries have disrupted pre-season preparations for top goal-scorer David McMillan and first-choice goalkeeper Gary Rogers.
The Lilywhites have already suffered first blood in the race for the title, losing heavily to nearest rivals Cork City in the President’s Cup last Friday and manager Stephen Kenny says that the opening game against Rovers – who have also strengthened during the off-season – will be a huge test for his depleted squad.
The unwanted consequences of success have conspired to put the three-in-a-row champions in a weakened position ahead of the new campaign and Kenny has called on the Louth outfit’s supporters to energise the players by coming out in force for the league curtain-raiser, which is being broadcast live by eirSport.
“I think it’s important that this weekend the Dundalk support get behind the team in a major way,” Kenny told the club’s official website. “Over half our starting team from last year is missing for Friday night. Some of those have left the club and then the injuries that we have is unfortunate.
“The sheer volume of games from last year and the schedule, which was unprecedented, has taken its toll. Chris Shields has an osteos pubis injury and David McMillan has an injury behind the kneecap. They haven’t participated in pre-season.
“Gary Rogers has a calf injury and Seán Hoare has a groin strain so both miss out. We have Shane Grimes on the long-term injury list with his hamstring. Ciaran Kilduff will be a late call after being carried off on a stretcher in Cork.
“That’s the situation we are in. It is a test for us starting. The first six games we play five of last year’s top six. It’s a test for us going in against Rovers with the players who have left and the players who are injured. It’s a test for everyone.”
Nevertheless, Kenny insists that his team will continue to strive for success.
“I get the impression that people think we are vulnerable and they think that this team has peaked but we won’t lie down in pursuit of further success,” he added.
“We have worked so hard to be successful. We have worked incredibly hard and we are not relenting in that regard. We are very determined to go and get ourselves ready at Oriel Park in front of a packed crowd.”
Dundalk take on Shamrock Rovers on Friday, February 4. Kick off 20:00.