Maher Eyes Linfield Return
Dundalk midfielder Stephen Maher is on the road to recovery and, although he is set to miss a Valentine’s Day date with Linfield in the Setanta Sports Cup, the 22-year-old is eyeing the second leg on 28 February as his competitive comeback. Indeed, it was a Christmas present from his girlfriend that saw Maher miss the opening day of pre-season training as he enjoyed a short break in Paris. But after returning to the fold on Tuesday the energetic midfielder told dundalkfc.com that he is making steady progress following osteitis pubis and that the injection he received after the season’s end has “completely cleared the pain”. Marzey has also given his thoughts on the possibility of being club captain in 2011.
“My girlfriend booked a holiday before Christmas for me,” Maher explained on his absence from Monday’s session. “She thought she would be safe on booking it for 10 January, but then I got a text a few days afterwards saying that training was put forward to the 10th. The Gaffer was nice enough to let me come in today (Tuesday); it would have been quite expensive to change the trip. He was very accommodating, as he has always been to me. It was probably because he knew I wouldn’t be training straight away. I’m just continuing my rehab at the minute, so it will be a while before I’m back fully training. I went to Disneyland Paris! It was very good. It was a great break.” However, Maher didn’t follow the lead of star goalkeeper Peter Cherrie who got on bended knee on Christmas Day to propose to his girlfriend, Laura. “Congratulations to Pete; I’m too young for that!” Marzey smiled. Everybody at Dundalk FC would also like to congratulate Pete and Laura on their engagement!
On his recovery, Maher, who first felt the injury in the away leg of the UEFA Europa League tie with PFC Levski Sofia back on 15 July, is hoping to get back to full running in a fortnight. “This week is the first week that I’ve started doing straight-line jogging and it’s just about building up strength in the groin and the stomach,” the youngster, who returned to the League of Ireland with Saint Patrick’s Athletic in early 2009 before arriving at Oriel Park last February, explained. “Hopefully, towards the end of this month, when we were originally due to start back training, I should be ready to do full running and hopefully take part then not so far after that. The injection has completely cleared the pain. It has taken out all the inflammation and swelling in my groin and pubic bone. Basically, the groin was completely weak, so just for the last six weeks over the break I’ve been in the physio twice a week and been doing my own stuff at home, strengthening the groin, building up the core muscles and making sure that this won’t happen again.”
And Maher is confident that he will not suffer a recurrence, once he minds himself. “From the evaluation of the groin specialist, the injury came from a lot of games back-to-back,” he said, “it came from doing the wrong exercises, really, and not looking after myself in certain areas – looking after certain areas and not looking after other areas. I wasn’t doing the proper exercises for my groins. I was mainly doing it for the hamstrings. I should have been doing more for my groin, and that’s what happens if you overcompensate in certain areas. It’s just a case of re-evaluating everything and making sure I’m doing everything correctly.” With no Europe to look forward to this season, the Setanta Sports Cup provides a new adventure for Dundalk this term. Maher has just one appearance in the competition to date, when he played the full 90 minutes in a 1-1 draw at Derry City in September 2009, when the tournament was spread over two seasons, and the midfielder is relishing a real taste of the cross-border cup. “We’re looking forward to it,” he said. “Any cup competition, you want to try to do well in and try to win.
“Hopefully, this year we can do well in the cups; we probably should have got to a cup final last year,” he added, recalling the late League Cup semi-final loss at Monaghan United back in August. “We want to make up for that this year. My only other appearance in the competition was just before Pete Mahon took over, so it was more like a friendly game. I don’t really know much about the competition but I know that the draw that’s been made is a big draw for the town, and it will almost be like a European game. It will certainly bring the crowds out. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll be making the first leg, but maybe the second leg is a big possibility.” Indeed, Dundalk and Linfield have not faced off since a European Cup tie back in 1979, the year that the Lilywhites went within inches of a quarter-final clash with Real Madrid, and Maher has already educated himself on the history of that last meeting. “I read up on it a few weeks ago,” he said. “Times were different then. Everyone will be focussed on the pitch and everyone will be out to see a great competitive game. It really will be a competitive game. Obviously, they’re halfway through their season and they’re going to be very fit, but we’ve come back early, so we’ll be ready.
“For me, the first leg will probably be too early,” he added. “It’s a case of being able to train first, get fit and then be ready to play. I can’t just go into games and expect to play. I have to expect some little setbacks and bits of pain in my stomach and groin, but that’s just what’s going to happen. Probably sometime in the middle of February, shortly after the first leg, I should be looking to get involved in a game. That will probably be my first pre-season game; probably a bit behind the lads but that was expected anyway.” One game that Maher should be available for is the opening Airtricity League Premier Division matchday when Dundalk travel to the champions, Shamrock Rovers. The midfielder scored his first goal for the club in a 2-0 victory at Tallaght Stadium on the third weekend of last season, the first of three wins over the Hoops in 2010. “I had a feeling it was going to be Rovers after last season, beating them three times and them being the champions,” he said. “It’s something to look forward to. I’d imagine it will be televised. It’s going to be a massive game. Last year in Tallaght was a big game for us and we managed to get a 2-0 win early on in the season, which I think was the catalyst to us going forward. Hopefully, we’ll be ready for the game and go out and do what we did last year.”
That win was followed up by another victory at Oriel Park in May, and following a 4-0 defeat in Dublin in July, Dundalk replied with a magnificent performance in September as they annihilated Michael O’Neill’s side 5-1 at the border venue. “It will be two different teams,” Maher pointed out. “They’re after signing a few new players and I’m sure they’re going to sign a lot more. We’re going to have a slightly different team as well. I think they’re going to be out for revenge, certainly Michael O’Neill. They’ll want to go out and beat us and beat us well. We’re going to have to be on our toes and really up for it, as they are the champions at the end of the day.” Maher is also pleased with the addition of strike duo Mark Quigley, who he previously played with at St. Pat’s, and Jason Byrne to the Oriel Park dressing room. “They’re brilliant signings,” he said. “You just have to look at the experience that they bring. Jason Byrne has scored so many goals, he’s an Irish international and he has played in the UK. Mark Quigley on his day is probably one of the best players in the league, so hopefully both of them do well and they fire us up the table.”
With the future of last year’s captain Liam Burns still undecided, Maher would be among the favourites to take over the armband, though he insists he is just currently concentrating on getting back on the pitch. The ex-Yeovil Town midfielder was given the honour of being captain on four occasions last year, including the home leg of the UEFA Europa League tie with PFC Levski Sofia. “I had it a few times last year,” he recalled. “It was unbelievable, especially to captain the club in Europe. At the minute, I have to get fit. I have to be fit and ready for selection for the manager to even consider me. But if he wanted to consider me I would love the opportunity. Just at the moment, I’m concentrating on getting fit, and maybe after that I’ll get a look in.” Maher, however, says that carrying the armband does not change his mentality for a game. “No, it doesn’t,” he said. “I’ll still shout and moan at everyone, and still run around. It won’t make a difference. At the end of the day, I’ll still play the same game. I’m probably getting a bit ahead of myself, to be honest, because I just want to be able to play again. Nothing else really bothers me; once I can play again, I’ll be happy.”
The Dundalk squad enjoyed a spinning and pool session on Wednesday morning, and on Thursday afternoon we will have an exclusive one-on-one with another squad member. Stay tuned!