06 Oct 2022

Darragh Leahy expected to return to the starting 11 as Dundalk host UCD

Darragh Leahy of Dundalk

Darragh Leahy of Dundalk and Darragh Markey of Drogheda United during the Jim Malone Cup. (Pic: Sportsfile)

After what a first ever International break in the Irish game, the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division returns tonight when Dundalk hosts UCD at Oriel Park (kick off 7:45PM).

While fans will be eager to return to live football, there is probably no person as excited to be back at the Carrickmacross Road venue then the versatile defender Darragh Leahy.

The left back has had a frustrating start to 2022 and has yet to feature for the Lilywhites this season after sustaining a nasty ankle injury in the dying stages of the Jim Malone Cup.

However having nursed himself back to fitness, the Dubliner played the full 90 minutes in a friendly against Shelbourne last Friday night. After getting another week of training under his belt, Leahy is relishing the chance to get back into competitive action against UCD.

“Last Friday’s friendly was the first 90 minutes I’ve played since the game with Derry City at the end of last season,” he told "It was great to get the minutes back into the legs and I’m looking forward to kicking on now.

“I picked up the injury at the worst time, in the last game of pre-season. Up to that point, I felt really good, played in all of the friendlies but I just went over on my ankle against Drogheda with no-one around me. I just wanted to block the cross but my foot planted and all of my weight went over on it.

“Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as we first thought. I thought it was a bad bone injury but it didn’t turn out to be as serious. It’s been tough watching from the stands so I’m looking forward to getting back into it.”

April will be a busy month for the Lilywhites at the Oriel, who are set to host four matches. The Former Irish U21 International has not had many chances to play in front of a full stadium since his arrival in 2020, but is looking forward to a cauldron of noise tonight. 

“Because of the pandemic, my first time really playing in front of a proper full house at Oriel Park was the back end of last year,” he said. 

“We beat Shamrock Rovers 1-0 that night and the fans really helped push us over the line. It was an amazing night and it makes such a difference having the supporters behind us. We have a big month ahead now and hopefully we can make the most of these games at Oriel.”

The sides last met at Oriel Park in the league back in 2019 when a brace from Michael Duffy and a goal from Patrick Hoban saw Dundalk run out 3-0 winners. UCD’s last visit to the ground came at the beginning of the 2020 campaign when Leahy made one of his first appearances for Dundalk in a 7-1 victory.

Andy Myler’s newly-promoted side have found life difficult in the top-flight thus far and sit bottom of the table after six matches but Leahy said Dundalk would be foolish to underestimate the Students.

“We know that UCD will be tricky,” he added. “They are young and fearless and they have a few players who we need to keep our eyes on but they also have weaknesses and we just need to focus on our game plan and what we do.”  

Speaking ahead of the game, Dundalk head coach Stephen O'Donnell was not taking the threat of the students lightly. He knows they can cause teams problems, but hopes a win tonight will kick start a big month for the club.

"UCD are enthusiastic and they carry an attacking threat in their front three positions" noted the Galwegian.

"They drew 1-1 with Bohemians at Belfield in their last fixture before the break and they arguably could have won the game. They have good footballers and they play with a freedom and they will be no different on Friday. 

"For us, it’s a big month ahead with four of our games at Oriel Park on a Friday night. As we have seen in the opening seven rounds, it’s going to be a very competitive league and I don’t think that’s going to change.

"We just need to focus on ourselves and start with performances. There have been some very god moments and there are things we need to work on but, all in all, the players attitude has been great and we’re looking forward to this run of fixtures."

As well as the return of Darragh Leahy to full fitness after missing the opening seven games with an ankle injury sustained in pre-season, Joe Adams, Nathan Shepperd and Dan Williams are all back from international duty with the Welsh U21 team and could feature against UCD.

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