DROGHEDA UNITED AND Dundalk head into the 146th competitive Louth derby with contrasting fortunes from Week 2 of the 2012 campaign.
The Boynesiders fought back from 2-0 down to rescue a morale-boosting win away to Cork City at Turner’s Cross last Friday night as an own-goal from defender Gavin Kavanagh handing Mick Cooke’s side the three points.
Dundalk, who appointed former Ireland underage manager Sean McCaffrey to fill the position left by Ian Foster in December, picked up a point against Monaghan United in their opening Airtricity League fixture of the season but were completely outplayed by St Patrick’s Athletic on their second outing.
An emphasis has been put on youth meaning it is essentially a period of transition for the Lilywhites, however. Experienced heads like Jason Byrne, Colin Hawkins, Ross Gaynor and Mark Quigley have departed and McCaffrey has used his vast knowledge of the game in this country to acquire a squad made up mainly of players in their late teens/early 20s with the exception of the returning Liam Burns.
Midfielder Chris Shields arrives from Bray Wanderers, where he was a regular for the Seagulls last season, and at 21, has been made club captain.
The Dubliner has cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines so far because of a knee injury he picked up in pre-season but says he’s raring to go after recovering.
It’s pretty horrible, especially as it was the first two games of the season but I’m glad to be back training and am hoping to start on Friday,” Shields, who will undergo a fitness test today, told TheScore.
He admits it is naive to expect a new team to knit together overnight but believes the performance against the Saints wasn’t up to scratch. As skipper, he has also taken responsibility by having a word with those team-mates who may not have as much experience in League of Ireland football.
“We’re starting to gel now but it will obviously take time as a lot of young players have been brought in. I feel we should’ve won against Monaghan but we were pretty poor last week in the Pat’s game and maybe that’s the wake up call we need.
“Even though I haven’t been training, I’ve been with the team and taken to the role well. I’ve tried to help the young lads and it’s probably an advantage that I’m around the same age as a lot of them.
On derby day, he added: “There’s been a bit of talk about it. We just want to start winning games. We know how important this game is for the fans with bragging rights and that but we’re looking at it as three points we need to pick up.”
His opposite number, Paul Crowley, is coincidently also just returning from injury. The midfielder had a two-night stay in hospital last month after suffering a nasty gash on his leg during the Jim Malone Cup versus tonight’s opposition.
“I had a small operation on it,” said Crowley. “They needed to open up the wound and I got 28 stitches but I’m back in full training since last Sunday and am ready to do the business if Mick (Cooke) selects me.”
The 31-year-old has experience of life on either side of the Louth derby having spent a season with Dundalk in 2007 and returns for a second spell at Hunky Dory Park after playing with St Pat’s last year.
From playing on both side, it’s all the fans talk about in the weeks coming up to it. You know that they love it. It’s the first fixture they look for at the start of the season. It brings a great buzz to the stadium. Hopefully, we can get the three points.”
Is there an added importance attached to this match from a player’s point of view though?
“You’ll treat it as any other game as it’s only another three points,” he answers.
“I thought we were unlucky against Shamrock Rovers and there aren’t many teams that can go 2-0 down in Cork and come away with a win so everyone’s on a high all week. It was an important result and has given everyone an extra lift.
“Getting that early win does a lot for the group and sends out a message – We’re not going be rolled over by anyone.”