Ahead of Saturday afternoon’s Jim Malone Cup tie with Drogheda United at Head In The Game Park, Dundalk FC media content officer Gavin McLaughlin sat down with team manager Shane Keegan to discuss the friendly with Bohemians last week, some of the new arrivals, and how the preparations have been going ahead of the new season.

Raivis Jurkovskis in action against Bohemians at Oriel Park. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Gavin McLaughlin: Shane, if we go back to last Friday’s game with Bohemians, I’m sure that you and the coaching staff were very happy with the performance?
Shane Keegan: Yeah, we were because you can only judge so much on training sessions and while a lot of the new signings have very much impressed us in training, you’re still waiting for that first game to see how they actually do out on the field and how they gel with each other.
To be fair to the players, I thought they played very very well, by and large, and it was amazing how quickly they gelled.
We coughed up a couple of chances but we created a hell of a lot. I think if we’d been a bit more clinical we definitely could’ve gotten a few more goals out of it, but there’s no doubt you are paying particular attention to the new fellas, and I think they were all very impressive which was obviously a very good sign.

GMCL: Raivis Jurkovskis certainly caught the eye of a number of supporters after his performance on the right-hand side.
SK: Raivis was one that we were licking our lips about and really looking forward to seeing in a game situation because he blew all of us out of the water in training with how good he was. He was very impressive, he’s got a fantastic engine on him, he’s a quiet guy who just wants to get on with his football and he’s one we definitely think can make a big impact.

GMCL: Let’s talk about Ryan O’Kane. He’s a 17-year-old kid so we have to be careful what we do in terms of putting pressure on him but that wasn’t a bad debut for a teenager, was it?
SK: Yeah it was fairly eye-catching alright. I’d say he probably had, certainly in the attacking half of the field, more touches than any other player so he featured a hell of a lot. The most impressive thing with Ryan was that we spoke to him at half-time about just tweaking his positioning a little bit and he did it to perfection in the second half. Some of his deliveries were superb and they were probably the ones we were disappointed not to get something out of.
Like you say, the most important thing to remember is that he’s a very young boy. He’s not even one who was training with the first team last year, so it’s not his second year in the way that it might be for the likes of a Val Adedokun or somebody like that, but he’s a really intelligent player who has shown an excellent attitude and application in training so far and the most important thing is that he enjoys the next few months, regardless of how much game time he gets. Just being in this environment alone is going to bring him on leaps and bounds and I’m sure he’ll get plenty of chances to shine here and there, but there’s certainly no pressure on him.

Dundalk winger Michael Duffy at the launch of the 2021 home kit. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

GMCL: I take it it’s the same with Jesus ‘Chino’ Perez? He was here on trial last year before he was drafted in the MLS, but he’s come back and signed full time this season. What can we expect from Chino?
SK: Chino’s technique is the one thing that really stands out. When you look at American players, MLS players, their technique is right up there and it’s probably just the game IQ that they need to work on a little bit. That football IQ of just knowing when and where to be, places and what decisions to make when you’re on the ball, and what we need on the defensive side of things, we need to work on those things because technique-wise, he’s bang on where we need him to be. I thought he did very very well against Bohemians and he’s a guy that’s improving with every training session because he’s taking information onboard.

GMCL: Team-wise, what can we expect against Drogheda United? It’s been all over the internet that Michael Duffy’s facing a long-term layoff but he started running this week which is a really good sign.
SK: Yeah, Michael’s been working away with the physios and with Graham Norton and while he hasn’t integrated with us yet, he looked to have been moving quite well on Thursday, so we’ll be hopeful. Obviously, he won’t be involved against Drogheda but it’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next week or two. I think we’d be reasonably hopeful of him potentially being ready for near enough the start of the season, so I don’t think there’s as much doom and gloom as has been thrown out there on that front! There are a couple more who, again, if tomorrow was a league game, you might chance them, but because it’s not a league game there’s no need to chance them.

GMCL: Are Patrick Hoban and Sean Murray in that category?
Shane: Pat will be involved against Drogheda, I would think. Sean probably not, Cameron Dummigan probably not and Ole Erik Midstkogen probably not. Again, there’s nothing major with those cases, we’re just trying to be reasonably cautious with them and ideally have them ready to go for the President’s Cup game and get more minutes into them before the season kicks off.

Dundalk’s Michael Collins remonstrates after his red card in the 2009 Jim Malone Cup at United Park. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

GMCL: What are you expecting against Drogheda? It’s a friendly but I’ve seen Malone Cups over the years and they’re anything but friendly at times!
Shane: I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this as a Dundalk man but I’m delighted to see Drogheda in the Premier Division because Tim Clancy’s a guy that I get along with quite well with. He’s been banging on the door for the last few years now and he’s done a fantastic job with them. They’ve made a couple of decent signings that sets them up nicely to try and compete in this division. You can see absolutely why he would’ve gone after players like Gary Deegan and Ronan Murray. Ronan was here before so everybody knows about him and it’ll be interesting to see if he can catch fire there again. He’s a fella I would’ve worked with at Galway, where he was a fantastic player.

GMCL: They’ve also added Dane Massey who brings a winning mentality to their dressing room.
Shane: Absolutely, and that’s where Tim has been clever. He’s looked at his squad and asked, ‘what don’t we have?’ and he’s gone and got players that will give him exactly that because they already tick the box in terms of young, exciting players. The likes of Conor Kane and Mark Doyle are fellas who have huge potential but you need a bit of experience to go in and around that. I think Tim’s given himself a real chance of doing very well and no doubt they’ll be looking to try and lay down an early marker on Saturday so I don’t expect anything too easy from the game at all.

GMCL: We’re literally a week away from the real thing starting with the President’s Cup. Are you happy enough with the way everything’s gone in pre-season?
SK: I think it probably took us a little bit longer to get into what you’d call top training sessions, but that was inevitable considering last season dragged on for so long. We’ve had various different niggles and bits and bobs like that but they’re almost ones that have carried through from the end of last season rather than new or fresh injuries that were picked up this season. So yeah, not having as much of a break meant that it probably took us a week or two longer to get into the full flow of things where you’re watching a training session and thinking to yourself, ‘Jesus, this is very, very good.’ That’s what we’ve been saying all of last week and all of this week. The injured bodies have started to come back in and we’ve been really, really happy with the last two weeks and we’ll be at the level we need to be for the 19th of March.

# A reminder that Saturday’s game will be streamed live on the Drogheda United YouTube page at 1pm.