Nine months after suffering a bad ACL injury against Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium, Brian Gartland made his return to action as Dundalk kicked off pre-season with a win against Cobh Ramblers on Tuesday night.

Gartland’s last start in a Dundalk shirt came against Arsenal in a UEFA Europa League group stage game at the Aviva Stadium in December 2020 and while the opposition and the venue – Lotamore Park, the home of non-league Mayfield United – was a bit more low-key, it was still a night that the 35-year-old said he will remember fondly.

“It was brilliant – and a long time coming,” he told afterwards. “I think I lasted 26 seconds on the pitch in Tallaght that day. I was like a kid after a ball and it was lovely to have that feeling again. Everyone has their journeys and their battles and things didn’t go smoothly for me at times with my recovery but I’m still here and back on the pitch.”

It didn’t take long for the five-time SSE Airtricity League winner to get back into the swing of things. Just minutes after coming on for new signing Mark Connolly, Gartland threw himself into a full-blooded tackle in front of the Lilywhites dugout. Mentally, it was a big moment for the Dubliner.

“I was chomping at the bit,” he smiled. “When a ball breaks and it’s fifty-fifty, it’s either play it safe or go all in and there is no point in me being back if you’re going to play it safe! I think that was me, in my own head, saying ‘go through the tackle, full-throttle’ and play the way I’ve always played.”

A debut goal for Dan Williams and a second-half brace from Patrick Hoban got the Stephen O’Donnell-era off to a promising start and Gartland said that he was excited about how things were starting to unfold at Oriel Park again.

“The squad we’re putting together is exciting – and I’m excited,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was something worth fighting for and fighting to be a part of it.

“I love the gaffer’s way of playing and his philosophy and the type of character he’s recruiting. The fans will love it. They want an honest hard working team that tries to do the right thing and we’ll try and play as well.”

DUNDALK FC: Nathan Shepperd (Peter Cherrie), Trialist, Mayowa Animasahun (Jack Kavanagh), Mark Connolly (Brian Gartland), Darragh Leahy (Sam Bone), Dan Williams (Tadgh Walsh), Paul Doyle (John Martin), Keith Ward (Robbie Benson), Daniel Kelly (Trialist), David McMillan (Patrick Hoban), Ryan O’Kane.

You can listen to Brian’s full post-match reaction below.