Stephen O’Donnell wants Dundalk to bring the curtain down on the first part of the league campaign in a positive fashion when the Lilywhites make the trip to Drogheda for the first competitive Louth Derby of 2023 on Thursday night.
With an international window looming, the League of Ireland season takes an enforced break after the St Patrick’s weekend fixtures and O’Donnell, who watched his side grind out a 0-0 draw in Derry on Friday night, said he was anticipating another hotly-contested affair at Weaver’s Park.
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it,” he said after the scoreless draw at the Brandywell. “It’s a tough place to go so it was good that we played the Malone Cup up there in pre-season as the newer lads will know what to expect experience-wise.
“Drogheda have had a great start to the season and had a good win over UCD tonight so they’ll be looking forward to it, but we will be looking forward to it as well.”
Dundalk supporters made the trip home from the northwest on Friday night concerned about the fitness of Daniel Kelly, who went off with an injury after just 26 minutes. O’Donnell, however, allayed fears that the winger had aggravated the hamstring injury that required surgery over the winter.
“It was just a little tweak,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not ideal but it’s not that major. We want to get Daniel to a place where he’s available week-in, week-out, so we’ll see where we are with that one but it’s nothing serious.”
One major positive was the appearance of Robbie Benson in a league game for the first time this season; the 30-year-old midfielder came off the bench to play the final 19 minutes at the Brandywell.
“I just wanted a bit of physicality and a bit of experience on the pitch,” said O’Donnell. “Robbie probably wasn’t expecting to come on and he’s probably a bit short but the way the game had progressed, we’d given up a bit of territory so I just felt a little bit of know-how physicality would help us in that regard.”
The scoreless draw against the Candystripes leaves Dundalk in third place after five games but even though he was happy with a return of seven points from three games in the space of a week, O’Donnell believes there is much more to come from his side.
“It was a good week,” he agreed. “I said that to the players inside but we know we can get better. I think that tonight was a good learning curve in that regard.
“I think we had five players out there who’ve never been to Derry so it’s a good measuring stick for them in relation to where the league is at and we’ll be more experienced and know what to expect when we’re playing against Derry again.
“We gave up a lot of possession and territory but we didn’t give up any real clear-cut chances. We defended our box really well but we don’t want to be associated with that. We want to carry a threat and be dangerous ourselves and control the game ourselves and, hopefully, that’s where we’ll get to.”