‘DON’T panic’ is the message to Dundalk fans from Lilywhites manager Seán McCaffrey as he continues to patiently assemble his squad ahead of the 2012 season.
The Monaghan man took his squad to six with Nathan Murphy, Gary Shanahan, Chris Shields and Shane O’Neill following Marc Griffin and Stephen McDonnell in putting pen to paper on contracts for the upcoming campaign.
Shanahan is currently on an FAI-FAS course in Limerick and will initially meet up with the Dundalk squad for a spell in pre-season before signing professional terms when his course ends in June.
McCaffrey came across Shanahan through Irish under-age trials and he has backed the teenager to be a big hit with the Oriel Park faithful.
“Gary’s very skilful and he’s very quick, and he scores goals. He has huge potential and he could be a crowd favourite when he settles in at this level”, said the Dundalk boss.
“He’s a big part of our plans. He’s a young player with great talent, huge potential and a real future.”
Another striker came through the door at Oriel Park on Sunday night when former Bray Wanderers star Shane O’Neill put pen to paper on a one-year deal at the club.
O’Neill, who celebrated his 23rd birthday yesterday (Monday), was the Seagulls’ A-Championship Player of the Year in 2009 and, 12 months later, was the Junior Supporters’ Club Player of the Year.
A player who has impressed against Dundalk in recent years, O’Neill spoke of his delight at signing for the Lilywhites.
“I’m delighted to be here. As soon as Seán got on to me and was interested in me, I knew myself that I’d like to come here. I think I needed a change, and I’m very happy now that I’ve signed”, he said.
“There was one or two offers on the table from other clubs, but this one stood out. As I say, I’m more than happy to join Dundalk.
“I’m from Bray so it was difficult to leave, but this is a move I feel I needed for my career to push on. Bray have been great to me, but I felt it was time to move on.”
“Personally, last season could have gone better. I had a few injuries and illness and that, and I found myself in and out of the team. It was difficult but I’m looking forward to getting going now.
“Goals are what I’m going to be judged on, so hopefully I can get plenty of them and the team can have a good season.”
O’Neill was followed up the M1 by his former Bray Wanderers team-mate Chris Shields who was also unveiled on Sunday evening.
The 21-year-old midfielder has been a regular in the Bray Wanderers team for the past three seasons and, like O’Neill, he was delighted to come and get the opportunity to work under McCaffrey.
“I was happy when Seán got in contact with me because Dundalk are a good club, and hopefully a club on the up.
“I had two or three phone calls from other clubs, but I met with Seán a week-and-a-half ago, I liked the sound of things and he offered me a good deal. Dundalk seemed to be the best option for me.
“It was difficult leaving Bray because I have a good relationship with Pat Devlin and Jack O’Neill down there. but I felt it was time to move on.
“I’m looking forward to playing with Dundalk now. My personal target is to help the team as much as I can and maybe get more goals from midfield. For the team, it’s to push up the table.
“It was a bit of a disappointment for the club last year to finish seventh, but hopefully we can improve on that, and maybe have a good cup run.”
Lack of experience
The average age of the six players signed is just 20, leading to concern amongst some Dundalk supporters that the final squad could lack leadership and experience.
However McCaffrey said he was happy with his recruitment policy of bringing in youngsters and said he expected more to follow before pre-season training begins on January 17.
“It’s important that we sign players that we want. We want players with ability and ambition, and obviously the player profile we’re going for is young players.
“That’s not because we can’t afford experienced players, it’s because young players have no inhibitions, and they have a drive and a hunger to push on.
“They’re in a part of their career where they want to move forward, and that suits us. If they’ve got a hunger to improve, work hard, and push on, that’s what we want.
“We want hungry players with desire, and sometimes when you have too many experienced players, that desire isn’t always there.
“Everybody wants to win leagues and cups but success this year will be to get a good squad together that we can retain for the next year or two and to put a playing style in place. I’d be happy with a mid-table to high table finish as long as we get the performances right and get a good cup run.
“I’d love to win something but let’s be realistic, there’s going to be a lot of young players here between the age of 18-22 who will take time to gel and take time to get to grips with the way we play so hopefully people don’t expect too much too soon because we need time.”
With Colin Hawkins set for a move to Shamrock Rovers and Simon Madden not in his plans, McCaffrey had been looking to secure the services of centre-back Evan McMillan form St Patrick’s Athletic.
A deal looked in place but work commitments swayed McMillan to sign for Bohemians where he is expected to be joined by Keith Ward, another of last year’s squad who has left Oriel Park.
Speculation at the weekend also linked Killian Brennan with a move to Dundalk but the former Bohemians midfielder is said to be on the verge of joining former boss Pat Fenlon at Scottish Premier League outfit Hibernian with Shamrock Rovers ready to pounce if a deal falls through.
Speaking to the Dundalk Democrat last week, McCaffrey had expected to tie up the signings of Mervue United duo Ger Hanley and John Mountney but it is believed that the deal has been held up over compensation issues.
Irish Under-21 star Johnny Dunleavy is another that the Dundalk boss has exopressed an interest in but he has also attracted interest from Derry City and his future remains undecided.
“There are a lot of players hanging about”, said McCaffrey. “That is one of the disadvantages of the League of Ireland being a 40 week season. At the end of the season you get a lot of players leaving clubs and it’s a bit of a free for all.
“Clubs are scrambling to get players and people are panicking but we’re not. We will only sign the players that we want. I’d rather start the season with 15 or 16 players and wait to get the other two or three we want rather than get 18 in just for the sake.”
“I’m delighted with the three new sigings that we made over the weekend”, he added.
“Chris Shields is a very good midfielder. That’s him and Stephen McDonnell now signed, so we’re looking for another two. I know who we’re looking for, if we can get them, but that’s a great start. They’re two excellent, young players
“Chris has played in the League of Ireland now for three seasons and he’s only turned 21. He’s a good, strong player and he passes the ball well, and he can be dangerous from set-pieces. He has real potential to push on.
“Shane O’Neill, on his day, is one of the most exciting strikers in the league.
“He has a bag of skill, loads of pace and can put the ball away. He’s a good player. He can play anywhere across the front, and even in the No 10 position, if we play that way.
“I’m very excited about it, with Gary Shanahan, Mark Griffin and Shane O’Neill – three attackers with real skill, real pace and hunger, so it’s a very start.”