Dundalk head west on Friday night for the penultimate game of the 2023 SSE Airtricity Men’s Premier Division season against Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds.
It is the Lilywhites’ first outing since the 1-0 defeat against Shelbourne on October 6th, a result that leaves Stephen O’Donnell’s side somewhat marooned in sixth place with just three games to play.
Mathematically, Dundalk can still finish in the top four but O’Donnell said that he was more interested in seeing how his underfire players responded to the latest setback of a frustrating campaign.
“There is obviously still an outside chance of us finishing fourth but, from our point of view, I want the players to show some hunger, some exuberance and some enthusiasm to finish the season well,” he said.
“It’s been a turbulent campaign and it’s important that our attitude is spot on for the last three games.
“It’s a good opportunity to give players a chance. There’ll be a bit of freshness about the team and I’m looking forward to seeing how those players fare at a difficult venue.”
The former Dundalk captain said he could understand the criticism that he and his players had faced this year.
“Players, staff…the last three games are big for us all,” he said, “because we’ve definitely had questions asked of us.
“Every game you play for Dundalk is a big one and when you are beaten, and when you show the same face away from home, you leave yourself open to that sort of questioning.
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“We’ve given people ammunition. You want to be in a position where people can see clearly what’s happening on the pitch and nothing can be questioned.
“That’s where we’re striving to get to and I’ve definitely learned a lot more this year than in my three previous full seasons as a manager in regards to the dynamics, what you want a team to look like, on and off the pitch, and what it takes for a team to mirror the image you have in your head.”
After missing five games with a calf injury, Andy Boyle returned to the squad for the Shelbourne game and the four-time league winner echoed O’Donnell’s thoughts.
“The Shels game probably summed up our year,” said Boyle. “We didn’t create enough and we gave away a sloppy goal.
“One of the things we’ve been speaking about is that we finish well and show some professional pride. We’ve been questioned by a lot of people and we need to show that we have a bit of character and that we make sure the very minimum we show is a bit of passion and a bit of desire.
“We’re as disappointed as anyone that the season hasn’t gone the way we planned but all we can do now is focus on the next three games and go out and show that we care and that we want to do well for the club, for the fans, for everyone.”
A return of just five wins, two draws and nine defeats has been a blight on the campaign but The Showgrounds is one of the four venues that Dundalk have collected maximum points at this year; Keith Ward’s header securing a 1-0 win over the Bit o’Red in May.
Team News: Louie Annesley, who has not featured for Dundalk since August 25th, will be assessed after returning from a six-week layoff and playing the full 90 minutes in Gibraltar’s internationals with Wales and the Republic of Ireland over the last week.