Johannes Yli-Kokko says he is ready to meet fire with fire when Dundalk take on Drogheda United on Thursday night.
The 21-year-old Finnish midfielder, who is on loan from HJK Helsinki, is set for his first taste of a Louth Derby when the Lilywhites travel to Weaver’s Park and he has been briefed by his teammates as to what to expect.
“I’ve been told that Drogheda play on a small pitch and that it’s going to be a battle,” he said. “We will have to be ready for it and be up and at it from the beginning. If we do that, we will be alright.
Yli-Kokko has already made an impact at Oriel Park since his arrival last month. He marked his debut with a goal in the 2-1 defeat against Bohemians at Dalymount Park and has also shown his versatility by playing in a number of positions.
“We lost the game against Bohemians but it was a really good start for me,” he said. “My dad was in the stands watching so that was really good for him!”
“It’s a really good league. The quality is there at some points in the games and you always have to battle it out, especially in the midfield.
“People are coming hard on your back and you have to be ready for that. The tempo is really high and it stays high for the whole game which is something I have to get a little bit used to because compared to the league in Finland, it’s a little bit of a higher tempo here.”
Asked about his versatility, the Espoo native said he was comfortable playing wherever Stephen O’Donnell wanted him to play!
“That’s what I’ve been used to back with HJK,” he explained. “I can play in different roles and if the gaffer needs me to do that for certain games, then yeah, it’s no problem for me.”
This is Yli-Kokko’s first time living away from his homeland but O’Donnell said that the 21-year-old had settled quickly into his new surroundings.
“Johannis is very mature and even though he’s only 21 and after coming into a foreign country and a new league that he would have known nothing about, he is very level-headed and has great maturity.
“When Alfie Lewis go injured against Bohs, I knew from talking to Johannes beforehand that nothing would faze him and that’s why we brought him on so early.
“He’s fitted in seamlessly. He’s just a really good footballer and really mature about his career and about football. He ticks a lot of the boxes for what you would look for from a midfield player.
“He didn’t play in the Jim Malone Cup in Drogheda at the start of the year but he has seen enough footage to know what type of game it is going to be on Thursday night.”
O’Donnell came up trumps in many Louth Derby games over the years and Yli-Kokko knows that he will endear himself to the Lilywhites faithful for the rest of his life if he can do something similar against the Drogs on Thursday!
“Yeah, I know what that would mean and that’s exactly what I’m hoping to do,” he smiled.