Double swoop is another sign of real progress
By Gavin McLaughlin
WHILE most clubs seem happy to adopt a wait and see policy regarding their playing squad for the 2011 League of Ireland season, Dundalk have been pro active since the last season came to an end just 37 days ago.
To date, the Lilywhites have 14 players tied down on contracts for the new campaign, no mean feat when you consider that just 12 months ago, Ian Foster had just been appointed as Dundalk boss and Peter Cherrie was the only professional on the club's books.
Keen to ensure continuity after a promising first season, Foster moved quickly to tie up deals with 12 of his squad from last year.
He took that tally to 14 on Saturday night when it was announced that Dundalk had completed the double signing of Mark Quigley and Jason Byrne from fallen champions Bohemians. The new season may be still four months away, but it is unlikely that Foster will be able to conclude a deal that will trump the one he delivered on Saturday night at the Clarion Hotel in Dublin.
Quality and goal threat
The capture of Quigley and Byrne is a massive statement of intent from the Lilywhites. With a budget somewhere around the 7k mark, a title challenge may be out of the question but convincing players with the quality and threat of Quigley and Byrne that their immediate future lies at Oriel Park is another sign that Dundalk are progressing nicely ahead of their third season back in the top flight.
Both bring plenty of experience, a real goal threat and a hunger for trophies. Injury permitting, you would feel they are guaranteed to be a success. Foster certainly seems to think so.
"We know what we are getting with Mark and Jason", he said. "They are proven players with goals and trophies on their CVs. I tried my best to attract them to Dundalk. If you don't ask, then you won't get I suppose. I put my case forward to both of them and thankfully both players were very keen to come here."
Byrne in particular, arrives with a glittering array of honours to his name including eight domestic medals and two full Irish international caps.
"I'm not sure when the last full international joined Dundalk", said Foster. "He will score goals, there is no doubt about that and he will bring the likes of Marc Griffin and Johnny Breen on immensely. Those youngsters will be thrilled at the prospect of learning their trade from him."
Quigley moved to Bohemians at the start of last season after spending three years at St Patrick's Athletic, two of which saw him top the 20 goal mark and pick up the PFAI Young Player of the Year award.
Often played on the left wing at Dalymount Park, he managed just four goals last season, one of which came at Oriel Park in Bohs' 2-1 win in August. However it was his performance in Dundalk's 1-0 win over Pat Fenlon's men at the same venue in April that really grabbed Foster's attention.
"Mark played a lot of last season out of position with Bohemians but he was very influential in their team", said Foster, "I thought he caused us a lot of problems in the game at Oriel Park where we beat Bohs 1-0. He was sharp and direct and his movement was excellent.
"He is seen by some as an enigma but I don't think some people realise just how good he is. It was the same when we brought Faz Kuduzovic here last season. He is similar to Faz in that he can play in between the lines and he chips in with goals. He is a fantastic talent and the best thing is that he wants to improve himself at our club."
End for Faz?
Speaking of Kuduzovic, the arrival of Byrne and Quigley looks certain to signal the end of his Dundalk career. The Bosnian spent time in Germany on trial at FC Saarbrucken last month and although he has yet to officially decline Dundalk's offer of a contract, Foster said it would "be difficult" to see him back in a white shirt next season.
"We made Faz an offer but he wanted to try things elsewhere. I have no problem with that but he always knew he was running the risk of us signing other players. I enjoyed working with Faz but I couldn't pass up the opportunity of signing Jason Byrne and Mark Quigley. He hasn't come back to us with an answer yet but at this stage I would say it is unlikely he will be back."
Another striker who won't be returning for the 2011 season is Matthew Tipton. The Welshman hit seven goals in 14 appearances at the back end of last season but it was announced over the weekend that he was joining Portadown on a one and a half year deal. Foster admits he was slightly surprised by the news.
"We made Matt an offer at the end of last season. I never got any reply from him and then I heard at the weekend he was signing for Portadown. I'd like to thank him for his contribution to the club and wish him the best."
With 14 players signed, Foster said his playing budget was running low. Ideally he would like to bring in a central midfielder, striker and a centre back but financial constraints mean that he may have to look at youth rather than experienced players to fill those positions.
"We're pleased with how many we have on board. 12 of the 14 who have signed were here last year so we will have less of a bedding in period.
"I'm still waiting to hear from one or two players. Tom Miller hasn't played enough for Charlton to really have a good look at him. He's out of contract so there's little I can do but we are definitely leaving the door open for him as we are with Greg Bolger from UCD. We made an attempt to get Ciaran Kilduff from UCD but there would have been compensation involved so we backed away from that.
"I'm not going to kid people", he added. "There isn't an awful lot of money left and I genuinely mean that. 14 players takes a huge chunk out of the budget. Of course we will keep our options open but the positions I want strengthened will more than likely be filled by younger players. You would always want an experienced team with a sprinkling of younger players thrown in but unfortunately we have to work the other way. In saying that, we have experience in good areas."
q Meanwhile the draw for the Setanta Cup will be made on December 13. No date has been set for the first round at this moment in time.
Dundalk, Bohemians, St Patrick's Athletic and Sporting Fingal are the FAI representatives in the first round with Cliftonville, Linfield, Lisburn Distillery and Portadown the four teams from north of the border who will enter at that stage of the competition.
Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers, Crusaders and Glentoran are the seeded teams who have received a bye to the quarter finals.