It’s always exciting, the beginning of a new season.
The blind optimism of the unknown fills your nostrils and lifts your spirits, as you end yet another off-season that’s dragged for so long, and begin a new year that will undoubtedly fly before your eyes.
It’s been the third year in a row where we’ve had title ambitions and a European run to look forward to; before the nitty gritty of league football begins, there’s no better time to pause, Angelus-like, and take a few seconds to appreciate the fact that we can look forward to another year battling it out with one of the best teams in the country, with the security and stability to be able to focus solely on the football, a rare luxury in the League of Ireland.
Moreover, an adventure awaits us on the first leg of what will hopefully be a momentous season, trekking across this fine island we call home, to take on Finn Harps in Ballybofey.
Yours truly will be taking in the highways and byways of Ireland in one go, heading up via Athlone before coming back down through Sligo and Galway. 862km and almost 11 hours of driving AA tells me, but little to deter our spirit for our first ever trip to Harps, crossing the penultimate ground off the list across both divisions.
The game itself could potentially be extremely important to City’s league ambitions, hyperbole aside. With Shamrock Rovers playing Dundalk, the Tallaght fixture presents City a precious opportunity to potentially get an early lead in the table over our biggest rivals, and given previous form those chances come rarely enough.
City’s issue last year was their inability to score points when Dundalk dropped theirs, particularly following the Europa League run with Seán Maguire out of form. John Caulfield’s men nicked three points from Donegal with a Maguire penalty last season, don’t be surprised if the tightest margins again separate the teams.
The transfer window has been mixed truth be told. The losses of Ogbene and Browne have been huge blows in two positions where the Rebel Army really could have used them. This, of course as it has transpired isn’t down to a lack of will or effort from the club, and nobody will be more disappointed than the City manager to have lost such important options.
Speaking of the defence; Johnny Dunleavy, John Kavanagh, and Alan Bennett, all defenders, (however much a certain commentator is convinced Kav is a midfielder) are all injured, and with midfielder Conor McCormack deputising – albeit to great effect – last Friday, City need to find a solution to the gaps in their defence.
This is John Kavanagh’s last chance at City in terms of injuries; his ability cannot be questioned but it’s his fitness liability which proves so frustrating for Caulfield and City’s supporters. A fit Kav would solve several headaches down the right side for the Rebel Army, and having had a promising pre-season to see him again on the doubts list is a bad omen.
“We’ve added players, all with a pedigree and all with quality,” Finn Harps manager Ollie Horgan stressed earlier this week at the Finn Harps press conference, and with a big crowd expected out to see Paddy McCourt there will be an air of anticipation in Donegal, which City will be hoping to break early.
But also an air of desperation; Horgan also stressed the importance of not ‘drifting’ early from their relegation rivals; Harps have tricky away assignments to Limerick and St Patrick’s Athletic amongst others early on, and will be frantically trying to claw points at home where they can.
For City too though; a fantastic pre-season – including a comfortable defeat of a strong Dundalk side – will give the Rebel Army a huge confidence lift, to add to the massive momentum builder of last year’s FAI Cup triumph. However, a clamour for points now comes to give themselves a buffer before they host what will undoubtedly be a stronger Lilywhite side in March.
It’s going to be a long hard season, and no trip represents it better than Friday’s 862 kilometre round-trip.
I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.