Foster Wants “Right” Defenders
Dundalk FC manager Ian Foster is confident that he can build a solid backline to add to the strong attacking options he has already assembled at Oriel Park, but he has insisted that he will not rush into any defensive signings as he wants “someone who is right for the football club and someone who is going to improve us”. The 34-year-old, who is preparing for his third full year in football management, was speaking exclusively to dundalkfc.com shortly after the second week of pre-season training kicked off, and he has revealed that he is “hopeful” that an announcement on his new assistant manager will be made this week.
“People shouldn’t be getting anxious about the defence, considering where we were at this time last year,” Foster said. “The budget hasn’t changed; we still have to very, very diligent with what we bring in and who we bring in, and what we spend. Unfortunately, that’s the situation we’re in. We can’t splash the cash. There are players available, but we’re not in the market unfortunately for the better ones. I’m working hard every day trying to speak to people and checking the availability of players and whatnot. But it’s not easy, because we just don’t have the funds to go and get two or three big, strong, competitive, experienced centre-halves. We just don’t have that. It will take time (to come together). An awful lot of teams aren’t even back training yet. Players are still mulling over different offers that they’ve got on the table, which is understandable. It doesn’t particularly help us at this moment in time, but I’m not prepared to just go and get the next player that is available. I want someone who is right for the football club and someone who is going to improve us, and we’ll try to get that.”
Foster has been putting the squad through their paces on his own over the past week and, while he admitted he is enjoying the experience having split training with Wayne Hatswell last season, he stated it is important for the players to hear a different voice. “I love coaching and I love being on the training ground,” he said. “It’s just important for the players, though, that they hear a different voice. At the moment, they’re not; they’re just hearing mine! They’re not fed up and sick of me yet, but I’m sure they will be very shortly, so that’s why it’s important that we get someone in with different ideas and different coaching methods. It’s important that you do get somebody else on the training pitch with you. But I love being there, I love coaching, and I love working with the players and trying to improve them.” Foster last week stated that he hoped to have ‘some developments’ on a new assistant manager, and he is hoping the final piece of that jigsaw will fall into place in the coming days. “I’ve made one or two,” he said when asked if he had made any inroads on an appointment. “I’ve spoken to a couple of coaches. It’s something that I’d like to get finalised this week, to be honest. It’s difficult at the moment, trying to do everything; there is only me on the training ground for the players. Again, it’s an important appointment and hopefully later in the week we’ll have something that we can announce.”
Dundalk enjoyed their sixth day of pre-season training on Monday, and after the first week back, Foster has revealed that he is pleased with how the players are progressing, with long-term injury victim Stephen Maher making further headway on his road to recovery following osteitis pubis. “The lads have come back in decent nick,” Fozzy said. “They have been put through their paces for the last week, and they look strong, they look fit and they look ready. I’m pleased with each and every one of them. Their attitude has been fantastic. The only one we haven’t really got hold of yet is Stephen Maher. Stephen is just starting his functional training with Paul Cheshire (Club Physio). He’s starting to do a little bit of ‘cutting’ and things like that, changing direction on the pitch, figure of eights, and all that. He’s looking OK. At the moment, he’s obviously a week behind the other players, and next week he’ll be two weeks behind, fitness wise. He’s going to find it quite tough to almost do a pre-season on his own, but what’s important is that we get Stephen back. Obviously, he’s still a long way away, but the fact that he’s functional already is pleasing.”
With the Malone Cup match against near neighbours Drogheda United confirmed by the FAI, Dundalk have added another provisional pre-season friendly date, at home to Limerick, which is pencilled in for Thursday 17 February at Oriel Park. It will be the first time that Dundalk have played Limerick since Colin Scanlan’s famous goal against Shelbourne in November 2008 handed the Lilywhites promotion and a return to the top flight after a seven-season absence. The club has asked supporters to note that the Muirhevnamor friendly on Sunday 6 February, though at Oriel Park, is classed as an “away” fixture and so the Season Ticket discount does not apply to the game. Along with those three friendlies, Dundalk will visit Cliftonville on Wednesday 2 February, with a game against local club Rock Celtic also to be played, that match expected to go ahead on Sunday 20 February. Note that all friendlies are provisional and require FAI clearance.
Foster had hoped to arrange a warm-up match for this Friday, 21 January, but will instead have to wait a further seven days for his side’s first outing in 2011. “It has proven difficult to get a game before Drogheda, but I’m not too fussed, to be honest,” he said. “We’ll have enough of pre-season to make sure that the players are ready. Last year, we had seven pre-season games. We’ll have around about that again this year. We’re back a couple of weeks earlier, so we’ll have seven or eight games.” Foster has also stated that he would have “no problem” using Youth players in Drogheda if Simon Madden and Nathan Murphy remain the only defenders in the squad come the local derby. “I have no problem doing that,” he said when asked if he would call on Youth team members to shore up the backline. “We’ll see what we have got at that date. Obviously, we’re lacking centrally. But the Drogheda game is a long way away in football terms, so we’ll see what we’ve got in by then. If we haven’t got any centre halves then we’ll either mix and match or we’ll use some of the younger players, which I haven’t got a problem with at all.”
Speaking on the Limerick friendly, Ian said: “I think Limerick have got one or two games over this way. It will be a good test. Pat (Scully) is assembling a decent squad down there. They’re desperate to get out of the First Division and it will certainly be a challenge for us, but it’s one we relish, so we’ll look forward to that one.” Foster also believes that the proposed friendly against Cliftonville, and a possible date with Newry City, will provide good preparation for the Setanta Sports Cup tie against Irish League leaders Linfield. “Playing Cliftonville and Newry would stand us in good stead before we play Linfield,” he said. “It’s important that we get opposition that are fitter and stronger than us at this time of year. It’s all well and good playing League of Ireland sides, but we’re all in the same boat and we’re all at the same level. The fact that we’ve got opposition from the north means that they’ll be a little bit ‘more at it’ than we would be at the moment, and hopefully we can get two games against Irish League clubs which would prepare us well for the trip to Linfield.”
Foster took in Linfield’s facile 5-1 Irish Cup win over Institute at Windsor Park on Saturday afternoon and was impressed by hat-trick hero Philip Lowry. The former Galway United boss is due to watch the Blues again on Tuesday night (18 January) when they return to league action at home to second-placed Glentoran, who Dundalk would face in the Setanta Sports Cup quarter-finals should they overcome Linfield. “Linfield made one or two changes on Saturday because of the importance of the game on Tuesday night,” he said. “They maybe had one eye on that. They went behind early on in the game, against the run of play, and then after that they never looked back and they could have scored at will at times. They had one or two very handy players. They passed it well and moved the ball quickly, and the young lad who got the hat-trick in the first half looked very lively. It will be a different kettle of fish against Glentoran I would imagine. I’ll go up and see them there, and get a clear indication of what they’re about against decent opposition. I’ll probably try to get to see them once more after that, away from home, to see how they play and what they do differently away from home. But Tuesday is the big one, it’s a big test for them and we’ll see how they cope with it.”
On Wednesday, dundalkfc.com will have the thoughts of right-back Simon Madden and central midfielder Stephen McDonnell. Stay tuned!