DFC | A new dawn, a new day: Dundalk FC return for pre-season

Dundalk Sport was at Oriel Park on Saturday afternoon as last season’s double winners got back to business

Dundalk FC head coach Vinny Perth shares a joke with Sean Gannon. Picture: David Caldwell

The post-Stephen Kenny era officially got underway at Oriel Park on Saturday as Dundalk returned for pre-season training and even though the faces and surroundings were very familiar there was certainly a freshness to the whole thing. A new dawn, a new day. That sort of vibe.

After weeks of speculation, it was the first chance to speak to the management team of Vinny Perth, Ruaidhri Higgins and John Gill who arrived with smiles, handshakes and new year greetings for the assembled media. All three looked happy to be back at the coal face. Happy to be back to the football.

In years past, Perth would have gone about his business quietly as Kenny’s number two but he spoke with authority here and supporters who may only have heard fleeting soundbites from the 42-year-old will no doubt be impressed by the way he carries himself.

“I feel most at home on the football pitch,” he told Dundalk Sport. “To be out there today and working with these lads and be in charge of this group of players is a big lift personally. I’m really motivated by it and it means a lot to me. There’s an exciting couple of weeks ahead.”

Higgins, a highly-rated coach who is extremely popular with the players, caught up with familiar faces like it was the first day of a new school year. For Gill, it was the equivalent of going back to his old school, 10 years after leaving! Tanned and carrying a bit more grey hair, the 55-year-old Dubliner returns to Oriel Park with a wealth of experience to share with his younger cohorts.

“I can only learn from John and Vinny,” said Higgins. “I want to develop and I want to learn and I’ve two good figures to learn from here. I’m only 34 years of age but I have good experience. I’ve been heavily involved over the past couple of years but not to the extent that I’ll be now. I’m ready for it now. I think that’s the key. I wouldn’t have put myself in the position of taking it on if I didn't feel I was ready. I’m more than ready and I can't wait to get my teeth into it.”

Perth addressed the squad and staff before strength and conditioning coach Eoin Clarkin took centre stage. Thankfully for the players, there was no bleep test to endure. Weights, sprints, jumps and a couple of old-fashioned laps were the order of the day with Michael Duffy, Georgie Kelly and Dean Jarvis certainly showing no ill effects from the festive season!

Changes have not just been limited to the management structure at Oriel Park. While supporters are, quite understandably, hoping for some news regarding stadium development, 10 years after it was built, the Youth Development Centre looks like it might finally be starting to bear some fruit.

The players' gym has been given a makeover with iconic pictures of the past six seasons adorning the walls. One particular area is covered with images of Dundalk’s last four title victories. “It gives new players who join the club something to aspire to,” said Perth. “The likes of Aaron McCarey and Daniel Kelly should want to see their faces on that wall next year.”

New, state of the art dressing rooms for the players, staff and kit man have been installed and were used for the first time on Saturday while a video analysis, medical room and eating area are currently being fitted. The underground car park, a feature of the original build, will also finally be put to some meaningful use.

The YDC will soon house the squad every day except for a match day when they will use the ‘traditional’ changing rooms under the main stand. Coming in at a cost of over €300,000, it’s a clear sign that the club’s American owners, PEAK6, are intent on providing the players and management with the best possible resources to keep on winning.

“When the building went up I thought it was a bit of a pink elephant,” said Gill, “but I’ve been blown away by it. The players are the most important people at the club and you have to give them a proper environment to thrive. They have that now, it’s a state of the art facility.”

Kenny’s departure means the spotlight will inevitably shine even brighter on Dundalk’s fortunes this season. From the outside, things may appear to be turbulent, but inside the camp, things look remarkably unperturbed.

“It’s about continuity and keeping things going,” said Perth, “but at the same time, it’s about improving what we’ve done. Other teams are trying to catch us and we have to stay ahead of them.”