With their remarkable run in Europe coming on top of a third league title in succession, Dundalk would always have been going into the new season with the spotlight firmly upon them.
But having since lost key players in Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle, and Ronan Finn, the glare of public scrutiny is bound to be even more intense when they host Shamrock Rovers (and old boy Finn) at Oriel Park on February 24, as the champions begin the defence of their title with some new personnel on board and, for the first time in a couple of seasons, doubts being raised about their capacity to retain their supremacy in Irish football.
“When you lose players like that, questions will be asked of us,” says full-back Sean Gannon.
“I think it’s hard to replace them but some of the lads that have come in have different strengths. Stephen (Kenny) has shown in the past that he can recruit very well, and players have come to the fore.
“Ever since we’ve won the league the question has been asked of us, are we hungry enough to do it again? But I think that’s kind of the mentality in the whole dressing room and in the club.
“I think the motivation is there, definitely, especially with us losing players. People are going to ask questions of us and really doubt us but it’s up to us to go and do our stuff. And hopefully at the end of the year we’ll be holding onto the league trophy.”
Crucial to achieving that goal, he acknowledges, has been the retention of Kenny as manager. “Stephen is massively important. What he’s done for players has been unbelievable. He knows how to get the best out of players and he’s very good at seeing your individual strengths and making you enjoy your football. That’s massively important for us.”
Even while relaxing over the club’s short close season, Gannon was frequently reminded of how captivating Dundalk’s memorable 2017 had been for so many people.
But that was then, he emphasises, and this is now. ”It was still fresh in the mind but I think you all know Stephen, he’s not one to dwell on what we’ve done so as soon as we got back in training we started looking ahead instead of back. The players that Stephen’s brought it, they’re young and hungry and want to do well. They don’t want to be seen as coming into a period of transition or anything like that.
“What we did last year was probably an incentive for them to come, anyway. That’s not getting away from the fact that what we did last year was very tough. And it will be tough to do it again. But it’s something we’re looking to do.”
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