DUNDALK manager Ian Foster is hoping to announce a replacement for Wayne Hatswell by the middle of next week.
Hatswell stepped down from his position of assistant player-coach at Oriel Park to join Blue Square Premier Division side Newport County on a similar deal just before the new year. Some fans have questioned Dundalk's decision to let him go, just one year into a two-year contract, but Foster said he could understand his friend's desire to return home to the UK.
"It wasn't hard to let him go", said Foster. "Wayne thoroughly enjoyed his time here. He loved working at the club and he knows he will never get to play European football again but he has just got married and I would never stand in the way of somebody who wants to leave because of family reasons like that. I understand the problem he has. It wasn't a professional reason for him leaving, it was a personal one and we all wish him well."
His departure leaves Foster short on defensive cover and he admits it will be tough to find somebody as adaptable as Hatswell - and for a similar wage.
"It's not going to be easy replacing him because as well as having him as a player, I brought him in as a money saving initiative. He was a coach, assistant manager, left back and centre half all rolled into one. To do that again is going to be incredibly difficult.
With Hatswell absent, Foster put his squad through their paces as pre-season training resumed at Oriel Park on Monday and Tuesday. Two notable absentees were Tom Miller and Liam Burns who have both yet to accept or decline contract offers from Dundalk.
Burns travels to Oslo on Friday as part of a PFAI organised tournament for out of work players and his decision to play a waiting game for a second year has anagered some supporters, and seemingly the Dundalk manager.
"It's a strange one with Liam", said Foster. "He was club captain last year and he was made two contract offers in October. I haven't been able to contact him during the break which is also disappointing. His offer was for the same terms as last year. I'm not going to make him a scapegoat because it's in his rights to look for a few bob more but it's disappointing because I don't know where I stand.
"I'm still speaking to Tom. He'd like to work closer to home but wouldn't a lot of people in their jobs. I hope during the close season that he realises Dundalk FC is the right club for him at his age. He was a relative unknown when we brought him here and I think he needs another season here to develop him further."
One area where Foster has strengthened is in attack. The club announced yesterday that winger Keith Ward had signed from UCD ahead of the new season and speaking to to the club's website, www.dundalkfc.com, Ward said he "was delighted to be on board at Oriel Park".
"There are some great players in this team, especially forward players. I want to work really hard to get into the team, and if I do well I'll be looking to play as much as I can.
"Ian spoke to me just before Christmas and let me know that the offer was there if I wanted it. I sat down over Christmas and had talks with UCD, but it's a full-time setup here and I obviously want to play at a bigger and better club. I had one or two offers but Dundalk stood out the most. "
Ward's arrival further compliments what is already an impressive array of attaking talent at Oriel Park but Foster was quick to shoot down any ideas that the Lilywhites could be regarded as top three contenders.
"I was asked during the week whether we had a title challenge in us because we signed Jason Byrne and Mark Quigley. I really think we need to quell talk like that.
"There are First Division clubs with bigger budgets than ours. People need to realise what we are offering and what we have to play with. At the moment we are competing just to stay in the Premier Division. I would love it to be different but that's the resources we have to work with."
Foster pointed to the imminent signing of Greg Bolger by Sporting Fingal as proof of how other club's can outbid Dundalk for players.
"I wanted to bring Greg here", said Foster. "However his move boils down to finances, pure and simple. We can't compete with Sporting Fingal. There is a lot being said about their financial demise yet they have offered, and are offering huge contracts to players. They have ten players signed from last season whose wages exceed my total budget. I would love a demise like that."