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'We didn't bring binoculars but I'll know next time' - Dundalk on their visit to see Messi and Co

Lilywhites full-back Sean Gannon was encouraged by what he saw of the club’s new signings on their recent trip to Spain.

Sean Gannon Sean Gannon at the eir Sport event this week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

AFTER A SHORTER break than usual, Dundalk’s history-makers have been preparing for another defence of the title they’ve made their own in recent years.

Stephen Kenny brought his team to sunny Spain for a pre-season training camp last week ahead of their return to competitive football. The Lilywhites lost out 2-0 to Espanyol’s reserve side before a 6-0 win over CF Reddis, while also finding the time for a visit to the Camp Nou to take in Barcelona’s La Liga win over Athletic Bilbao last Saturday.

“It was good to get away, there’s a lot of new faces in the dressing room,” Dundalk defender Sean Gannon said of the trip.

“It’s invaluable when you are away together and with each other all the time, to bed the new lads into the group and form relationships with players. For that, it’s perfect.

“We played against Espanyol who were very good, so they were very good pre-season games. They’re obviously in the middle of the season so it’s a big test for us. We played another game and a couple of new lads got goals.”

On watching Messi and Co make light work of their Basque opponents in the flesh, he added: “We didn’t bring binoculars, but I’ll know next time. It was some experience watching Barca live as I’ve never seen them before.

It was a player cam on Messi. He doesn’t move a lot, he just walks around and then does something brilliant so he’s forgiven then.”

Scouting them for this season’s Champions League perhaps?

“Oh yeah, we’re just seeing what the dressing room is like and things like that!” he smiled.

Dundalk Nou Camp Source: Twitter/DundalkFC

Dundalk’s dominance in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division under Kenny saw them crowned champions for a third consecutive year in 2016. Only the famous Shamrock Rovers team of the 1980s have claimed four back-to-back titles and while it’s undoubtedly the Louth club’s aim, Gannon insists they aren’t gunning for the Hoops’ record.

“To win four league titles in-a-row is almost unheard of,” he said. “I think only one league side has done it — Shamrock Rovers. Obviously there’s an incentive to go and win four-in-a-row, that in itself is massive.

“But I think we wouldn’t be chasing any records. We know about it but we wouldn’t be setting our goals to go and equal Shamrock Rovers.

“I think Dundalk have a lot of history themselves. For the club and for the players it would be unbelievable to win four leagues in-a-row. We’d be more looking to do it for ourselves rather than trying to equal other teams.”

They’ve been victims of their own success with two key players, Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan, snapped up by Championship side Preston North End in December.

Kenny has proved himself to be a shrewd operator in the transfer market before, however, and no less than six young players have come in the door — Michael Duffy (Celtic), Steven Kinsella (Everton – on loan), Conor Clifford (Boreham Wood), Niclas Vemmelund (Derry City), Sean Hoare (St Patrick’s Athletic) and Jamie McGrath (St Patrick’s Athletic).

Conor Clifford Former Chelsea youth player Conor Clifford in action during Dundalk's pre-season game against Glenavon. Source: Presseye/Jonathan Porter/INPHO

While there’s no doubt the pair will be a loss, Gannon believes their achievements can be an added incentive for the recent arrivals.

“When you lose players like that questions will be asked of us,” he says. “It’s a good mantle for the new lads that have come in, to go and perform and look at what Daryl and Andy have done.

“The platform is there and Stephen will give them whatever they need to go and do that. You talk about replacing them, I think that’s hard as some of the lads that have come in have different strengths.

When you lose good players it’s tough but Stephen has shown in the past that he can recruit very well and players have come to the fore and hopefully that happens again.

“There’s a lot of new faces in the dressing room. Since I’ve been at Dundalk we’ve only brought in one or two players maybe. We’ve six players that have signed so it’s new faces but it’s not the biggest league in the world so you kind of know players from playing against them.

“They are all good lads that came in and they’re hungry for success. Stephen has signed a lot of young players that are hungry to do well.

“For us, what we did last year was brilliant but we can’t just keep referring back to it. It’s a clean slate now so we’ll have to try and do it again. The league is going to be very competitive this year because teams around us have strengthened.”

With the President’s Cup final against Cork City at Turner’s Cross just a week away, Dundalk upped their ran out 4-2 winners against Leinster Senior League outfit St Pat’s CY in Irishtown last night.

Dundalk defender Sean Gannon was on hand to help make Wednesday’s announcement of eir Sport’s exclusively live coverage of the mouth-watering clash between champions Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers in the opening weekend of the 2017 SSE Airtricity League. Coverage of the big clash gets underway live on eir Sport at 7.15pm on Friday, 24 February

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Ben Blake

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