Dundalk FC have been rocked by the news that experienced central defender Colin Hawkins will miss the next 4-6 weeks, just as fellow hamstring victim Jason Byrne prepares for a return to club action. Hawkins had been absent since the trip to Shamrock Rovers on 21 June having pulled his hamstring in the warm-up against Galway United three days later, but made a return to the team against Derry City before the midseason break only to go off injured after 15 minutes.
The 33-year-old has admitted that he is “gutted” with the news, but he is keeping upbeat as he targets a comeback in just under four weeks in the FAI Cup last-16 clash against Louth rivals Drogheda United at the end of this month. It is a competition that the four-time league winner has never won, but he is particularly keen to do so this year as he looks to realise his Aviva Stadium ambition, having missed out on last weekend’s Dublin Super Cup. “I’m gutted with the injury,” Hawkins, who has scored four goals in 26 appearances this term, told dundalkfc.com. “I’ve never had a hamstring problem. With all my Achilles problems, I’ve never had this.
“I came back maybe a week too early against Derry,” he added, “which is disappointing because it means I’m going to miss another couple of weeks. I was happy the way my form was and the way we were playing, so it’s disappointing. The break did me a bit of good as I had a rest for the last week. But obviously I won’t be available for Sligo and then I’m just going to have to go week by week and make sure it’s perfect this time. I don’t want to come back too soon. You saw what happened to Jason when he did that, he maybe came back a week early and his broke down. I don’t want that to happen again. There is still a lot to play for this season with 12 league games and we have still got the FAI Cup, which is a massive thing.
“I was gutted to miss out on the Aviva tournament at the weekend,” Colin continued, having been selected in Damien Richardson’s final squad. “The reason I wanted to be in it was to play at the Aviva, so I have to make sure that we get there for the cup final now. The cup is a great opportunity for us. We’re definitely a team that nobody will like to play in the cup. Drogheda away is going to be a really sticky game because of the derby and they beat us here in our place. The aim is to get back around then. I’d be hoping for that, but, as I said, I can’t rush it this time. I have to make sure it’s right. That’s going to be a massive game in Drogheda. If we can get over that hurdle then there’s no reason why we can’t go on and win it.”
One player who surprisingly made the Dublin Super Cup was Byrne, who made his first start since the Setanta Sport Cup final on 14 May when lining out against Celtic on Sunday. Byrne has received some criticism for doing so, as he has played just 20 minutes of the club’s last 13 games. However, manager Ian Foster has dismissed that criticism, stating that Byrne’s involvement in the tournament will benefit Dundalk. “I don’t know where the criticism has come from,” Ian told dundalkfc.com. “It was my decision for him to go away with the team, because that week he was due to start training with us. It made sense that rather than gave Jason a week off, he was to step up his training, and Dundalk Football Club will have benefitted from that.
“He wasn’t ready for us to go into the Derry game,” the 34-year-old added. “But a week is a long time in football, particularly in rehabilitation. He had three or four days training with the group, and then he said he was fit enough to play some part in it. I was in contact with him every day while he was away, making sure that he was OK, and I’m delighted that he’s got 70 minutes on the pitch, because, like I say, it will only benefit us. Otherwise, it would have been difficult to get that kind of fitness into him during last week. We’re delighted that Jason is back. A fit Jason Byrne is as good as any striker in this division, we know that.
“He has been a big miss for us,” Foster continued. “His experience, his goals, his hold-up play – everything that Jason gives us, we have missed it. It’s wonderful to have someone like him back. Obviously, we have still got huge players missing. But Jason’s return is a welcome boost to us.” Asked if Mark Griffin’s form would allow him to ease Byrne back into action, the Liverpool-born boss said: “We won’t risk Jason. He will play some part of the game on Tuesday against Banbridge Town and he’ll also get a week’s training in with us, and then we’ll assess him before we play Sligo Rovers. If he’s good to go, we’ll use him. If not, then we’ll wait. He has been out an awful long time now, so we’re not going to rush him back.”
Four not more
Byrne was one of four Dundalk players to take part in the Dublin Super Cup – alongside Simon Madden, Daniel Kearns and Dean Bennett – and Foster was surprised that there were not more involved. “I spoke to Damien Richardson on the morning of the squad announcement and at the time I spoke to him we had seven players in it,” Fozzy revealed. “And by 3 o’clock, we had four. I’m not sure what happened between those hours. But that’s the way it went. I was delighted for all the boys that were involved in it, though. I thought Simon Madden’s performance on Saturday was fabulous; he didn’t put a foot wrong and defended really, really well against a very good Man City team. On the Sunday, the three boys that started did very, very well. Jason, bearing in mind that he hadn’t started a game since 14 May, did particularly well. I was pleased for him.
“A lot of people raised their eyebrows when they seen Jason in the squad,” Ian added. “But it was a week where he was due to train with us and the last thing he needed was a week off. I was pleased that he got three days of solid training into him, plus 70 minutes against Celtic. It has done him the world of good. Dean Bennett’s performance was typical of Dean. He played in a strange position; he has played centre-mid, centre-half and then he’s asked to play as a second striker. I’m sure Mark Quigley’s eyebrows will be raised at where Beno was asked to play, but there you go! And then Daniel Kearns, playing on the left-hand side of midfield, was the best League of Ireland player against Celtic by a million miles, for me. The four boys will come back better players having gained that experience.”