You can read Stephen O’Donnell’s programme notes for Friday evening’s game with Cork City below.

This is Cork City’s first game at Oriel Park since 2020 and it will bring back memories of the great rivalry we had with them. For five years we were the main challengers for the league and we also played each other in four consecutive FAI Cup finals. I don’t think anyone in Dundalk will ever forget that last game of the season at Oriel in 2014 and when we went down to Turner’s Cross, there would be crowds of 8,000 strong watching the games. It was a great period and it’s good to welcome them back to Oriel Park this evening.

Colin Healy was a part of that team that we had so many battles against and he obviously left his position as Cork City manager last week. I played with Colin during my time down there and I always enjoyed coming up against him as a player and as a manager. I’m on the Pro-Licence course with him now so I was very disappointed to see him go. He did a great job with Cork. He got them promoted last season and they have been very competitive in all of their games this season. They went to Tallaght and drew 4-4 with Shamrock Rovers earlier in the season and they beat us at Turner’s Cross on Easter Monday.

It means that we’re probably facing a little bit of the unknown in terms of what we’ll be meeting tonight. Liam Buckley came in and took over as interim manager last week and Cork were very competitive against St Patrick’s Athletic last Friday night but it’s hard to gauge what sort of team they’ll play against us or what way they’ll set up. We’ll have to react in-game if needs be but it’s a match we’re looking forward to. We’ve won our last three on the spin, we’re unbeaten in five, and we’re full of confidence.

I was very happy with how we played in Sligo last Saturday night. If you take out the first 10 or 15 minutes of the second half, I thought it was our best performance of the season. Sligo are a good team and they were always going to have a spell but even though we gave up a couple of chances, I thought we controlled the game and I was very happy with our quality.

We have bodies out at the minute but everyone’s having an impact and they’re all having different moments of being the main man, as we have seen with the likes of John Martin and Keith Ward in recent weeks. That’s what we want. When somebody’s not playing, and they come in and make a difference like that, it shows not only how good of a player they are, but how brilliant a person they are and that’s the crucial part of any successful dressing room. What type of people have you? If you have good people, then you always have a chance.

I’m really happy with our progression. When you bring in eight new players and a lot of your mainstays from the previous year are injured, then logic will tell you that it’s not going to be plain sailing and that things won’t go smoothly because none of the new lads are used to the league, none of them are used to the opposition and none of them are used to their surroundings.

The benefit of throwing them all in at once is that the settling-in period becomes a bit quicker. I see training every day and from a talent and ability point of view, I have never had any worries. It’s a case of getting the squad and the team training and playing on a regular basis. During the sticky spell we had, I always felt it was important for us to hang in there and nobody has built up an unassailable lead. Results around the league are so hard to predict and I don’t think that’s going to change over the season.

Archie Davies has been named as the 1903 Supporters Club Player of the Month for April and it’s fully deserved because he has been playing really well. Archie has been going since the start of the English season and Saturday’s game against Sligo Rovers was the 43rd time he has played 90 minutes since last summer. It shows how durable he is and it’s a testament to the performances that he’s putting in because most players in England are coming to the end of the season and he’s still going strong.

After coming on for the last few minutes in Sligo, Paul Doyle played the full game for our MU19 team against Finn Harps on Sunday. It was Paul’s first full 90 minutes since the FAI Cup tie with Longford Town last July and that will really bring him on. We wanted to get a game into him because we’ve got a really busy period coming up now.

It was also great to see Daniel Kelly and Cami Elliott on the bench in Sligo. They have trained this week and they’re getting closer to being 100%. It makes the squad look a bit fuller and I’m longing for the day when we do have a clean bill of health because it’ll give me a really good selection headache. At the minute, we have a limited number of people to work with and don’t have a full bench to choose from but, hopefully, we’re getting closer to the stage where we have really good options to pick from.

Enjoy the game,
Stephen O’Donnell