THE RTE cameras will be in Tallaght Stadium on Friday night to see if Dundalk can apply some pressure on reigning champions and SSE Airtricity Men’s Premier Division league leaders Shamrock Rovers.
Rovers go into the game sitting top of the table with 51 points from 27 games, four ahead of second-placed St Patrick’s Athletic and five ahead of Derry City and Bohemians, who occupy third and fourth respectively.
A win in Tallaght would move fifth-placed Dundalk to within five points of Stephen Bradley’s men, with Derry City due to visit Oriel Park a week later Friday, but Lilywhites head coach Stephen O’Donnell said talk of a title challenge was a bit premature.
“It’s very tight but there’s lots to be done before we can get to that,” he said. “We’re trying to beat the best team in the country on their own patch, where we haven’t been successful in recent times, so it’s a massive task ahead.
“Rovers have had a two-week buffer and I’m sure their thought process is that they have a nine-game run to retain their title so I’m expecting a big reaction from them and I’m sure they’ll have fresh bodies back.
“There’s plenty of teams up there pitching, there’s plenty of teams that have shown that they can slip up and plenty of teams that have shown that they can go on a run.
“Our focus is solely on ourselves and what performance we bring. We’re on a good run, we’ve won eight, drawn four and lost two of our last 14 games so we just need to keep that sort of consistency going between now and the end of the season and see where it takes us.
“I’m not putting any ceiling on it for us but I also know that from where other clubs are at, they have a right to be up there pitching whereas I think we’re still very much sort of trying to punch above our weight, and a work in progress.”
Dundalk have won the last two meetings between the sides, a 2-0 league win at Oriel Park in June, followed up by a 1-0 win in the FAI Cup second-round tie between the clubs at the same venue at the end of July.
It’s over four years since the Lilywhites have won a league game in Tallaght; current Rovers defender Sean Gannon’s lone strike secured Vinny Perth’s men a 1-0 win in June 2019, and Dundalk winger Daniel Kelly knows that stat must change if they want to be considered in the final shakeup.
“You need a little bit of luck to win the league but to get to the very top you need to beat the teams above you. We’re looking to do that, starting with Rovers on Friday,” he said.
“We know what it takes to beat them. We’ve won our last couple of games against them but they’re top of the league for a reason and they’re the team we all need to catch.
“They’re a good side, and they’re hard to beat in Tallaght, but we’ll be going up there with no fear and we want to pick up the three points.
“It’s a mad league this season. I think everyone’s a bit disappointed with where they are because everyone has been inconsistent but it means it’s wide open going into the run-in which is great for everyone.”
Team News: Hayden Muller and Paul Doyle are back after missing the win in Bray through injury and suspension respectively while Robbie Benson stepped up his comeback by playing over an hour for our MU19 academy team last weekend. Ryan O’Kane is making good progress after going off at The Carlisle Grounds with a shin injury but Keith Ward and John Mountney are absent.