Stephen O'Donnell led Dundalk to the league title in October. Morgan Treacy/INPHO
Team to beat

Champions aiming to prove they're stronger than last season, says captain O'Donnell

Dundalk start their Premier Division title defence tonight against Longford Town.

HE WON’T BE in the Dundalk team tonight, but captain Stephen O’Donnell says his side will need to be better than last season if they’re to retain their SSE Airtricity League Premier Division crown.

The Lilywhites have won 10 league titles in their history, but they’ve never managed to win two in succession. The quest to do so begins this evening at Oriel Park with a game against newly-promoted Longford Town (7.45pm).

Stephen O’Donnell scored Dundalk’s first goal in last October’s 2-0 title-winning victory over Cork City, but he’ll watch on from the sidelines for tonight’s season opener after undergoing minor knee surgery earlier this week.

“It’s not often that a league goes down to the wire between the two teams that are fighting for it, so the way it all ended last year was great,” O’Donnell told The42.

“But that’s gone now and we’re at the dawn of a new season. Everyone is starting from scratch, everyone is equal. They’re good memories to have but we’re only looking forward now and trying to retain it.”

Dundalk will begin this campaign without last season’s top goalscorer Patrick Hoban, who’s moved on to Oxford United. But they’ve added the likes of Ronan Finn, Jake Kelly and Gary Rogers, so are Stephen Kenny’s outfit now stronger than last season?

O’Donnell said: “That remains to be seen. Obviously if you lose the league’s top scorer it’s going to be a blow, so there’ll be an onus of responsibility on the rest of us to chip in with goals.

“Our strength in depth is probably better than it was last season. It’s all well and good saying all these things, though. The proof will be in the pudding. We’ve actually got to go out and show that.

“We do need to up our game and improve. Everyone will be out to raise their game against the champions, but our big motivational factor is that Dundalk have never retained the title. Becoming the first Dundalk team to do that is our goal.”

As for their biggest challengers, O’Donnell expects last season’s runners-up Cork City to be in the equation again, but the 29-year-old is anticipating a more open title race than in 2014.

“Cork have added real strength in depth and they’ll be there or thereabouts, but I wouldn’t pigeon-hole it just to Cork,” he said.

“You’ll have Cork, Rovers and Pat’s obviously, but the league seems to take on a life of its own once it starts. We just need to make sure we’re in the mix.”

SSE Airtricity League Launch Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

There are two other Premier Division games down for decision tonight — including RTE’s live televised game between Shamrock Rovers and St Pat’s — while Cork City’s visit to Sligo Rovers is the pick of tomorrow’s trio of top-tier fixtures.

Friday, 6 March

SSE Airtricity League Premier Division 

Dundalk vs. Longford Town – Oriel Park, 7.45pm
Galway United vs. Derry City — Eamonn Deacy Park, 7.45pm
Shamrock Rovers vs. St Patrick’s Athletic – Tallaght Stadium, 7.45pm

SSE Airtricity League First Division 

Cabinteely FC vs. Wexford Youths — Stradbrook, 7.45pm
Waterford United vs. Athlone Town – RSC, 7.45pm
Shelbourne vs. Finn Harps – Tolka Park, 8.00pm

Saturday, 7 March

SSE Airtricity League Premier Division 

Bray Wanderers vs. Drogheda United – Carlisle Grounds, 5.45pm
Limerick FC vs. Bohemians — Jackman Park, 6.30pm
Sligo Rovers vs. Cork City – The Showgrounds, 7.45pm

SSE Airtricity League First Division 

Cobh Ramblers vs. UCD – St Colman’s Park, 7.45pm

Originally published at 06.00

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