The SSE Airtricity League season returns with a bang on Friday night as Dundalk entertain league leaders Shamrock Rovers in an eagerly anticipated clash at Oriel Park.
A run of four straight wins before the mid-season break means that Stephen O’Donnell’s men go into the game sitting nicely in second place with 18 matches played.
Victory over the champions would see Dundalk cut the gap on Rovers to five points, with a game in hand, but O’Donnell, who will serve a one-match touchline ban following his red card against Derry City last month, said he wasn’t interested in talk of a title challenge.
“Ultimately, everyone reacts to what you do on the pitch so your actions are more important than talking about things,” he told dundalkfc.com.
“That’s what we focus on. If we were coming fifth or sixth but the work ethic was really good and we were doing things right and not getting the rub of the green, nothing would change with us and nothing will change with us, no matter what our league position is.
“Train well, apply ourselves and work hard for each other; that’s what we focus on. Everything else is just noise. We are only worried about what our actions are and we’ll see where that leaves us.
“How well we play, from an application point of view, will determine where we end up at the end of the season, not what we say in interviews.”
Friday’s game will the third between the clubs this season. In March, the sides played out a scoreless draw at Oriel Park before a Danny Mandroiu goal gave Rovers all three points in Tallaght a month later. Overall, it’s the 368th time the clubs have met. Dundalk’s record stands at W117 D85 L166.
Dundalk beat Rovers in both of the league games that were played at Oriel Park last season and with seven wins and two draws from their nine games at the old ground this year, the Lilywhites have made their home patch a daunting place to visit once again.
Daniel Kelly, who scored Dundalk’s winner against the Hoops in the 2-1 victory at Oriel last May, also bagged the decisive strike in the 1-0 victories over Finn Harps and St Patrick’s Athletic before the break.
That run of form saw ‘Dickie’ named as the Soccer Writers of Ireland Player of the Month for May and speaking after receiving the award, he was hopeful that Dundalk’s home advantage would play a part in the outcome.
“We want to keep the momentum that we built up before the break going and hopefully we will do that against Rovers,” he said. “All of the games that we play against them are usually very good games.
“They’ve won the league for the last two years because they’re a very good side but our home form has been brilliant this year. The lads that come out in force at Oriel Park every week deserve a lot of credit and we owe a lot to them.
“They make the place a fortress and help drive us on and hopefully they’ll be behind us as usual on Friday again.”
Nathan Shepperd and Joe Adams are available after returning from international duty with the Welsh U21 side while Brian Gartland is closing in on a return after missing the last four games with a foot injury.
Tickets for the stand have now SOLD OUT. Ground tickets are still available while a limited amount of juvenile tickets remain on sale until 4pm on Friday.