They say familiarity breeds contempt but Dundalk centre-back Dan Cleary is pretty happy in his surroundings at the minute.
The 23-year-old has played a major role in Dundalk’s push on all fronts this season with his performances in August enough to see him become just the sixth defender in 10 years to win the SWAI Player of the Month award.
Cleary has been one of the major success stories at Oriel Park over the past two seasons. After returning home from the UK where he had spells with Liverpool and Birmingham City, he trained with Shamrock Rovers only to sign for Dundalk just days ahead of the 2018 season.
He went on to lift the league and FAI Cup double in his first season at the club and now has his eyes set on achieving bigger and better things.
“When I came home, I wouldn’t say I was struggling but I only found a club five days before the season started,” he said. “That shows how far I’ve come in 18 months. We won a double last year and hopefully, we can go one better this year.”
Cleary commutes from Dublin each day with fellow centre-halves Andy Boyle, Sean Hoare and left-back Dane Massey. Dundalk’s run of fixtures means they have seen each other more than most over the past three months but, speaking ahead of Saturday’s EA Sports Cup final with Derry City, Cleary insists that cabin fever hasn’t set in just yet!
“The four of us go up, so one of us drives one day each week. We all meet up at Blanchardstown and go from there. I’ve been in that car with the three lads more than anywhere else in the last nine months but I can’t complain. I’m not the biggest moaner in the car anyway!” he smiled.
Cleary is the 13th Dundalk player since 2013 to receive the monthly award. Fellow carpool members Hoare and Massey are both previous winners of the trophy but Andy Boyle, who has never picked up the monthly prize, is the only one of the four to have won an Irish cap.
Boyle was called up to the Irish squad when he was at Dundalk in November 2016 before making his debut against Iceland four months later. And after watching his old friend Jack Byrne make his debut for the Boys in Green in Wednesday night’s friendly with Bulgaria, Cleary is hoping to follow in both of their footsteps.
“Why can’t someone else from the League of Ireland play for the international team. Graham Burke did it last year and Jack’s done it this year,” said Cleary.
“There are good players in our league. I don’t know what it is, maybe people look down at the league, but Jack showed he has the quality to play for our international team and the quality in the league is definitely there.”
“I’ve known Jack since he was seven years of age and I always knew he had the talent to play for Ireland,” he added. “I played for Crumlin and he played for St Kevin’s and that was the biggest rivalry in Dublin at the time.
“We just kicked lumps out of each other,” he recalled. “I used to play midfield and I used to just run around after him but I couldn’t get near him. I moved back to centre half, after that. He ended my midfield career!”
The move to centre-back has not curtailed Cleary’s attacking instincts. Three goals and two assists in August played a major part in him winning the vote ahead of Derry City striker David Parkhouse and Dundalk teammate Michael Duffy.
One of those goals, along with two of the assists, came in the 3–2 win against the Candystripes in the FAI Cup second round tie on August 23rd. A similar result on Saturday evening will keep Dundalk on course for the you know what!
“The EA Sports Cup got away from us last year,” said Cleary. “We won the double and we were kicking ourselves thinking ‘we should have won the treble’ so we’re definitely looking to win this trophy.”
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