The dust has just about settled on this year’s League of Ireland season but Dundalk centre-back Brian Gartland is already eyeing another triumphant campaign in 2015.
No Dundalk side has ever retained the title but, speaking just a day after his 28th birthday, the big defender said this current crop of players are determined to have a good crack at it.
“To me, retaining the title is a bigger challenge than winning it,” said Gartland.
“If you look at the last three winners, St Pat’s were the only side who finished in the top three the following season. That shows just how difficult that is.
“I don’t know for sure because I haven’t experienced it yet but my idea would be that a lot of teams don’t work as hard the year after. They rest on their laurels.
“Something that we are based on is having a high workrate so I would hope that we continue that and even push ourselves on more.”
Continuity is not a word you would regularly associate with the league but Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny has already tied down seven members of the title winning squad. And Gartland said it was imperative that the club keeps the core of the group together.
“We’ve seven signed up already and they can all play in the starting XI. Last year we had a squad full of players like that and we will need that again.
“I’m on to the other lads, telling them that they should put pen to paper and stay with us and hopefully they will.”
Winning the title means that Dundalk will enter the qualification stages of the Champions League. Next summer’s European adventure may be a long way off at the minute but the former Portadown defender is already looking forward to pitting his wits against continental opposition again.
“We go in at the second qualifying round of the Champions League and if we get a bit of luck, and progress then you are guaranteed a crack at the Europa League play-off round at the very least.
“We don’t fear anybody in Europe,” he continued. “Hajduk Split wouldn’t have been looked upon as a favourable draw and look what we done over there. We have confidence in ourselves.”
The discussion returned to his new contract and Gartland said he was delighted to have a bit of security behind him, especially with Christmas approaching.
“The sad part of the game in this country is that we are all without pay for three months now so I’m lucky to be in a position where I know I’m employed next year. It’s great to stay, I know the set-up, I know the gaffer so I’m delighted to stay back.”
Gartland scored 11 goals for the Lilywhites last year, including the winner in the 2-1 victory over Cork City at Turner’s Cross in early August. Did he chance his arm and ask for a goal bonus to be included in his new deal?
“I didn’t but I’m going to put the word out there that I want a percentage of the money that people are making off me scoring goals. Some of the lads around town are making a fortune on me,” he laughed.
“Our masseuse, Adam Kelly, well his dad won a bit of money and, fair play to him, he came up to me with a thank you card and a meal voucher for me and the missus. I’d like to thank him for that.”
One group of supporters who will be particularly pleased that Gartland is staying with Dundalk are those at the Sean O’Mahony’s GAA club.
The defender’s relationship with Bronagh O’Brien, sister of Louth star John, means that he has almost become part of the furniture at the San Siro.
The Point Road side are firing on all cylinders themselves, after booking a place in the semi-final of the Leinster Intermediate Club Championship with an extra-time win over the much fancied Castleknock last Sunday.
“Their flag is still flying over there,” he said with a smile, pointing at the green and gold colours above The Shed at Oriel, “and they are flying aswell”.
“Castleknock are a strong side and I was thinking it might just have been a step too far for the O’Mahony’s but they fully deserved to go through.
“I’m away on holidays the day before they play their semi-final but I’ll be back for the final and the celebrations after they win it,” he said with a glint in the eye.