Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny has a chat with Ciaran Kilduff during training at DkIT Sport. Picture: Ciaran Culligan
Pre-season training began on Monday afternoon with Lilywhites manager Stephen Kenny in
The departure of Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan to Preston North End, coupled with Ronan Finn's surprise decision to move back to Shamrock Rovers, has left many people questioning Dundalk's ability to launch a bid for a fourth SSE Airtricity League title on the bounce.
However, Kenny told The Dundalk Democrat that his side would not give up their title without a fight and backed his players to rise to what he said was a big challenge ahead.
“I wouldn't be writing our obituary just yet and I would say that rumours of our demise have been greatly exaggerated! We'll get there over the next few weeks of pre-season we'll be ready for the start of the season.
“We've lost some big players and the players that all left were exceptional and strong characters but does that have to be it? Does qualifying for the Europa League group stages have to be a once in a generation thing? For me, it doesn't.
“Other clubs will feel that we might have plateaued a bit and that they could pass us by and you see the likes of Cork City and Shamrock Rovers with their new training grounds and good stadiums.
“We don't have that so we have to come in and fight hard to stay on top. We have a big season ahead and we will be tested this year like never before but we won't give up anything lightly.”
Kenny added Jamie McGrath and Niclas Vemmelund to his squad over the weekend and he said he was delighted to have acquired the services of two very talented players.
McGrath first caught Kenny's eye during Dundalk's 2-0 victory over Pat's at Richmond Park in May 2015 when the Athboy youngster went on a mazy run that left a number of players in his wake.
“There are very few players nowadays who are real natural dribblers like Jamie,” said Kenny.
“I remember when he came on against us a couple of years ago in Inchicore, it was something that you don't see, a player who can beat three or four players. That's rare.
“People from Dundalk will have to forgive the fact that he's from Meath!” quipped Kenny. “He's a natural footballer and you can't have enough of those in your team.”
McGrath wore the number seven shirt vacated by Daryl Horgan during his photo shoot at Oriel Park on Sunday morning. It was purely coincidental but Kenny feels the 20-year-old has the ability to step into Horgan's shoes.
“We want to try and maximise Jamie's creative instincts and let him be free and fulfil his potential. He's a player that has played in all four positions, as an attacking midfielder, on either flank or as a centre-forward but I'm sure he'll look to nail down one position.
“Will he play in Daryl's role? We'll have to see but he'll be a good addition to the squad. He has a good attitude and he wants to get better. He has a hunger for it and he will bring a freshness.”
Vemmelund arrives after an impressive season with Derry City. The Dane played in all but one of The Candystripes' matches last year and has a good CV, winning a league title in Iceland with Stjarnan in 2014 and playing in seven of their eight subsequent Europa League matches where they beat Bangor City, Motherwell and Lech Poznan before succumbing to Inter Milan.
“Niclas is only 24 but he has already won the Icelandic league and played in some big European games. He is equally adept at right-back or centre-back and will add good competition in there.
“At right-back, he is very attacking. He has good composure and gets forward really well. At centre-back, he has great distribution and he is a really good defender. That's what we'll need.”
The club announced the signing of Conor Clifford on Monday evening and Kenny
“Conor was in the same Crumlin United team as Andy Boyle and Richie Towell when he was younger and he has sort of lost his way a bit in recent years,” said Kenny.
Kenny has not closed the door on Shane Grimes returning to the club, providing he can return to full fitness after a serious hamstring injury but one department where he is is not looking to strengthen any further is in
David McMillan signed a new contract on Sunday and will start the season battling it out with Ciaran Kilduff for the centre-forward position.
“People have this opinion that we need a centre-forward but we have David and Ciaran, two players who play in one position, and they contributed 34 goals last season.
“That's an incredible return, especially when you consider that Ciaran was injured for big parts of it. You might, on a rare occasion, get that with two strikers up front so they've done very well.
“It's a unique situation when you have two players who combine well, get on well and work so hard with each other. I've never had that before.
"You get more than the sum of one and that's very unique and it shouldn't be overlooked in terms of our success over the past few years.”