DFC | Cleary hoping for another memorable night against Rovers

22-year-old made his debut against the Hoops in Tallaght

Daniel Cleary is hoping to create more happy memories when he faces Shamrock Rovers in what could be a pivotal night in the SSE Airtricity League title race on Tuesday.

The 22-year-old made his Lilywhites debut in the scoreless draw with Rovers in Tallaght back in February — and also scored in Dundalk’s 5–2 win at the same venue in June — and has been become an integral part in a backline that has conceded just 13 goals in 28 matches.

“I’ll always remember that first game in Tallaght. It was a very special night for me,” he told Dundalk Sport. “I’ve loved every minute of it since. I think I’ve played well when I’ve been in the team and feel I’ve taken my chance when it has come up.

“We’ve had a very solid season. It’s not over yet but it’s so far, so good. When you think we had eight clean sheets in a row earlier on and now we’ve won 13 games in a row, it shows that everybody in the squad has had a really good season.”

Things did take a bit of a nosedive earlier this month when Dundalk crashed out of the Europa League and EA Sports Cup in the space of just five days. Cleary started in both games, away to Larnaca and Cobh respectively, but he believes that spell is well out the system.

“It was 15 or 20 minutes of madness but Larnaca are a top team and you can’t deny that,” he said. “They have players who have played in La Liga. We have them a good game here at Oriel but they caught us cold in the opening 20 minutes in Cyprus and we paid for it. We expect better, though, and we want to perform better in Europe next year.

“You’ll never get a perfect season,” he added. “Teams get bad patches and it’s how you deal with that. Some teams in our league hit a bad run and they stay in it for a while. You have to get out of it as soon as possible. We had a bad five or six days but we’ve come through it and I don’t think we’ve looked back since.”

Dundalk are looking to make it 14 league wins in a row on Tuesday night, two short of an all time record. It’s a sequence made even more impressive by the fact that Stephen Kenny has regularly chopped and changed his back four from game to game.

“The way I look at it, we have the best back four in the league, no matter who is playing,” said Cleary. “There’s players on the bench who would play in any other team in the league. That shows the strength that we have. When you’re put into the team, it’s to do a job, and not to get used to playing alongside somebody. You don’t think of anything else but winning that game.”

More importantly, a win would put Dundalk six points clear of Cork City with just seven games to play. For Cleary, it’s an opportunity too good to pass up.

“It’s our game in hand and we know we can go six points clear if we win it,” he said. “Rovers will love nothing better than to try and spoil the run we’re on. They’ve had 10 days to prepare for it but they can have as much as rest as they want. We’ll be ready. We’ve eight games left, eight cup finals, and we want to win them all.”

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