Dundalk head into one of the club's most important weeks in many years with three vital games to go along with it.
The outgoing League of Ireland champions last night played Derry City at the Brandywell. On Thursday they head to Tallaght Stadium to take on Norwegian champions Molde FK in the first of their group stage games in the Europa League.
Next Sunday they play Waterford in the league in a critical game for third place in the league and European football next season.
On Thursday, Dundalk play Norwegian champions Molde FK. Molde are all but out of their league title race seeing themselves 15 points behind the league leaders. It would take a complete collapse by the leaders for Molde to catch them now.
They have won the Norwegian League title four times and the cup four times. Their home ground is an all-seater and holds around 13,300. The conversion of their beautiful stadium to an all-seater took place around 2000-2001.
They will be formidable opponents for Fillippo Giovagnoli's men, but Dundalk can win this game. Molde won their Norwegian league game 4-2 at the weekend. Dundalk, of course, were held to a scoreless draw by Bohemians at Oriel Park on Friday and played in Derry last night.
Dundalk will have to keep it very tight at the back for most of the game on Thursday. If they can, they could catch them on the break and go on and win it. If the boys from Oriel win it's worth around €250,000 to the club. The nonsense of having to move all three games in the Europa League to Windsor Park was just that - nonsense.
Dundalk were told by the IRFU a number of weeks ago that the Aviva would not be available .
Dundalk chairman Bill Hulsizer announced he would be applying to take all three Europa League games to Belfast and Windsor Park. But it was clearly written in the UEFA rules that a team can not move European games to another football authorities jurisdiction unless there are extenuating circumstances. Hulsizer's attempt to move the games failed. His unhappiness to play the Molde game in Tallaght is very embarrassing, as the game was always going to end up being played there. The remaining fixtures will be played in the Aviva.
Let's hope the ghosts of that great Dundalk team that beat Bate Borisov in 2016 at Tallaght Stadium can inspire another great night for the Oriel Park men. That was Dundalk's first big European win under Stephen Kenny. Bate qualified for the group stages every season. But Dundalk hammered the Belarussian champions 3-0. It was lift-off for a fantastic European run that netted the club millions.
Tallaght is a fabulous stadium and is held very preciously in the hearts of Dundalk fans because of the great European nights there and clinching the league title in 2015. My prediction for Thursday night is a win for Dundalk over the Norwegians.
The race for third place in the league is really hotting up. Waterford's draw with Cork City has left them just a point behind in fourth place but Dundalk have games in hand on them there. Dundalk play Waterford next Sunday at the RSC. Derry, Sligo and Pats are also very much in the mix. Dundalk have only one more home game left. The others are away. Last night's result in Derry would have a huge bearing on things. So will all the others.
That Dundalk find themselves in a situation where they have won only two of their last nine games in the league is amazing. My fear is that with Dundalk playing in a European week they might play a weakened team before and after that Europa League fixture. Manager Fillippo Giovangoli rejected that he played a weakened team against Shamrock Rovers on the Sunday before the huge qualifying game for the group stages against the Faroe Islands champions. I had asked him after the Bohemians game on Friday about fielding a weakened team. He said he had no weakened team anyway.
Well I have to disagree. Had Dundalk played a weakened team against Bohemians on Friday night they would have been beaten comprehensively in my opinion.
Instead Dundalk played well against Bohemians and were unlucky not to win.
In a rare interview, Dundalk owner Matt Hulsizer left more questions unanswered than answered. Speaking in the Irish Examiner he said he still had hopes for the future of Dundalk despite what he called Irish bureaucracy.
Mr Hulsizer says Peak6 misunderstood the Irish market when they took over Dundalk
He claimed Dundalk's wage bill is twice the size of other clubs and that he would be prepared to share out some of the four million. euro Dundalk got for qualifying for the Europa League qualifiers.
Matt Hulsizer rejected claims from the IRFU that it would not have been operationally possible to stage the Molde game and the Irish rugby game days later at the Aviva Stadium.
Hulsizer also says he offered to take control of the company that runs the Aviva. Apparently 20 to 30 million euro was offered but rejected by the IRFU and the FAI. The Dundalk FC owner says he would have absolved the two organisations of their losses relating to the Aviva. Any profits made on the Aviva would be split on a 50/50 basis between the IRFU/ FAI and Peak6.
Hulsizer, amazingly said 10 of Dundalk's home league games would be played at the Aviva rather than Oriel Park.
If his claims are true that Dundalk's weekly wage bill is twice the. cost of other clubs' fault lies totally with Peak6 and nobody else.
The hopes of Peak6 developing Oriel Park into a top class stadium seem to be lying in ruins now. Matt Hulsizer says that for anyone to expect a group to spend a vast sum of money on an asset they do not own was ridiculous. He said they would just have to make the best of Oriel. But there is no doubt - forget about a new stadium at Oriel or major revamp at Oriel Park.
Hulsizer denied that his father Bill was involved in interfering in team affairs including picking the team while Vinny Perth was manager. The Dundalk owner then amazingly admitted his father did suggest changes of strategies when things were not happening on the pitch.
He claimed that with the wage bill so high that when it looked as if the players were not playing well or playing for Vinny there would always come a time for a change.
In relation to the proposed new GAA stadium at the DKIT Mr Hulsizer also claims that his group looked to be equal partners with Louth County Council in relation to the proposed new stadium at DKIT. The Examiner says that the council rejected the approach .
The council may have rejected the offer, but this was because they were too late with it. Louth GAA had already been given the tenancy rights months ago. Earlier this year a small group got together and planned to make a move on the stadium with a feasible plan. The plan worked and Louth GAA got the tenancy and the promise of a new stadium of up to 20,000 as an all-seater.
Dundalk were offered this stadium twice to two different owners in 2010 and during the Kenny era. For whatever reasons the then owners turned the offers down. I respect their reasons. The GAA were offered it after Dundalk first turned it down. After a period the GAA turned it down. The chance swung back to Dundalk but It was never going to be a runner with the then owners.
Finally the GAA got their act together and got the new stadium up and running.
Peak6 have been owners for over three years of Dundalk. They could during that period have got the DKIT tenancy of the new stadium. It was simply too late when they did make the move.
The Peak6 group could easily build a new stadium with the money they want to invest in the Aviva. That's 30 million euro.That would be a state of the art ground and would attract huge activity as the new ground would be just half way between Dublin and Belfast.
I would be just as happy with building a new stadium like Sligo Rovers or Galway. The cost would be 10 million. Peak6 would get grant aid. They would not have to pay it all themselves. Sligo's ground is fine for the initial stages of any European competition. They would only move to Tallaght or the Aviva if they progressed in Europe.
I'm glad Peak6, or any previous owners, do not own Oriel. It ensures that Dundalk will always have Oriel. In the 1980s the owners of Shamrock Rovers sold off Glenmalure Park and houses now sit on it. Rovers had no stadium for nearly 25 years before they found their new stadium at Tallaght. The begrudgers may say the Hoops got it for nothing. Of course they paid something, but they deserve everything they have now and good luck to them.
Dundalk had three chances of getting what Rovers got but did not go for it.
The Casey family are the guarantors that Dundalk FC will always exist. No lease holder can ever sell Oriel for development. The lease was renewed in the late 90's by the late Jim Murphy, former club historian. It ensures Oriel can't be sold off at all.
I have serious worries about what Matt Hulsizer said in the Examiner. Why do they want to give away parts of the 4 million the club made from qualifying for the group stages of the Europa League to other clubs?
Part of the 30 million they wanted to spend on the company that controls the Aviva could be used to develop a new stadium in Dundalk. People say Peak6 are not going to build a new stadium as they only invest in assets that will make a profit. They are a hedge fund group. Despite that, they will make money on a new stadium. But it must be the right type.
However, it's not going to happen now and it looks like no stadium, with Oriel continuing to be dilapidated.
To be fair to previous owner Gerry Mathews he did do a lot of development that if not done Oriel would be much poorer today.
He developed the new Enda McGuill bar. He put in brand new offices for staff. He turned the ground into all-weather. Gerry also built the magnificent youth development centre which was totally under resourced until Peak6 put in a magnificent brand new training centre for the team two years ago.
And Gerry Mathews put in a brand new roof over the main stand after wind badly damaged and destroyed the old one. He did and paid for all developments at Oriel during his time. Gerry had his critics but I don't think people really know or appreciate the work he did.
I'm baffled also by Matt Hulsizer saying he wanted 10 of Dundalk's home games being played at the Aviva .Well Mr Hulsizer, I don't think you understand the feelings of Dundalk people. They would not want to travel away for 10 games as ‘home games’ in the Aviva.
Why do Peak6 want to give part of the club's European profits to other clubs? What is their interest in the Aviva? Is it more important than the club you own?
The uncertainty this has created should be answered or cleared up immediately.
I was doing media work for some media outlets at Warrenpoint at the start of the new Irish league on Saturday. The Point were playing top side Crusaders. Amazingly a decision by the North's executive to ban all supporters late Friday evening was rescinded to take force from yesterday (Monday).
I'm so used to seeing games being played behind closed doors it was surreal to see fans in the ground.
There were about 250 people in the ground.
Warrenpoint had all of their socially distanced markings put down clearly enough. However I was gobsmacked by the amount of supporters who had no face masks. Yes these supporters were outside in the open air but many were too close together and at least wearing a mask would be a deterrent.
The atmosphere was great and the game very enjoyable. Sadly the Point conceded an early goal and there was just no way back for them.
Warrenpoint have strengthened their team well from last year. I do not think they will struggle as they have in recent years.
I met a Crusaders official whose family was originally from Dundalk. He said he was at Dundalk's first floodlit game at Oriel in October 1967 when Dundalk met Vasus of Budapest. It was the first floodlit game ever to be played outside of Dublin. He was at all the big European games under Jim McLaughlin. He spoke about the great Jimmy Hasty and another legend Danny Hale. Hale played under Alan Fox in 1966-67 when Dundalk ran away with the league.
He said he listens to Dundalk FM's commentaries on all the European games. He singled out John Murphy with great praise as he knew John had done so much for the club since he won a league medal in 1962/63.
It really is a small world. Anyway I enjoyed my trip to Warrenpoint. A really great family friendly club. There are still three Dundalk players lining out for them every week.
It was not a great week for Stephen Kenny's Irish teams. But the week was wrecked with news that Covid had arrived in the camp. To the critics of Stephen Kenny - back off. He needs time and will get it right. He is an excellent manager.
Dundalk boss Filippo Giovangoli is getting a full time contract for next season. He's an absolute gentleman and is working very hard. Whether he is the right man for the job only time will tell.
Anyway it's a big week for Dundalk and their supporters playing Molde in the Europa League and playing two games in the league while chasing the European spot for next season.
Please be careful out there. Let's have respect for each other and look after each other as well. Have a safe week.