Dundalk’s trip to Inchicore on Friday night will evoke memories of last year’s encounter with St Pat’s which saw Liam Buckley’s side take a massive step towards the 2013 Airtricity League title.
It will be almost 12 months to the day (September 21, 2013) since goals from Chris Forrester and Daryl Kavanagh secured a well-deserved victory for the Saints as Dundalk, who finished the game with ten men following the dismissal of captain Stephen O’Donnell - froze in front of the RTE cameras on the big stage.
Twelve months on, the tables have turned dramatically. Last year, Dundalk made the journey to the capital sitting level on points with Pat’s. This Friday, they will travel south on the M1 sitting 11 clear of the champions with just seven games to play. Buckley’s side currently occupy third place and European qualification, rather than a last ditch tilt at the title, is their realistic goal.
Lilywhites defender Brian Gartland was part of the Dundalk team that trudged off, dejected at Richmond Park on that balmy September night, knowing that he, and his team-mates, had failed to do themselves justice.
The experience may have been bitter at the time but Gartland feels it has helped the Lilywhites in their title bid this year.
“There is a different attitude now,” he said. “Last season has definitely stood to us. When you look back, we went into big televised games, big title deciding games and it was new to a lot of the lads in the squad. We definitely didn’t show up the way we should have shown up that night.
“It’s only through experience that you can get used to games like that and I think that has shown in the maturity of the players this year.
“There are so many young players in the team but there is great maturity and nobody panics. People lose the head now and then, everybody does that, but there is patience and a huge belief in this squad.”
Gartland feels that the other significant factor from 12 months ago is the quality and size of Dundalk’s squad. Darren Meenan and Chris Shields both missed that game with Pat’s through suspension and their absence hit Dundalk hard on the night.
This year, Dundalk have options aplenty and despite losing captain O’Donnell through injury early on the season, they have marched their way to the top of the table, playing fantastic football in the process.
“From the end of last season, up to now, we have signed quality players,” said Gartland.
“Some are in the team and some aren’t. For example, if you look at the subs who came on against Bohemians, David McMillan is one of the best strikers around, Donal McDermott is a gifted player and Ruaidhri Higgins’ passing is probably the best in the league. He has won trophies and his experience is vital.
“Our squad is another thing that will hopefully stand to us in the last few games.”