Duff relishing visit of Dundalk

Top flight action returns to Tolka Park tomorrow as the Reds welcome Dundalk to Drumcondra in the League of Ireland Premier Division.  (7:45pm KO)

Damien Duff’s side come into the game after picking up a point on the road in a 2-2 draw with Shamrock Rovers at the Tallaght Stadium a week ago.

Duff has been dealing with a difficult injury list in recent weeks with JR Wilson, Conor Kane, Sean Boyd, Gavin Molloy, and Mark Coyle among the players who’ve missed games.

The Reds boss delivered a squad update ahead of tomorrow’s game. He told ShelbourneFC.ie: “Good week for us training, great to be back to a normal week after the Easter Friday-Monday games, we had some good tough training days earlier in the week then did our walkthrough and video work today. 

“Injury wise Luke Byrne is dealing with ongoing issues, but coming closer to pain free so he’ll be available tomorrow. Mark Coyle is an aggravation of the same issue, in a slightly different place, but the same leg, same muscle. 

“That’s disappointing for Mark as he’d done well when he was in, now it’s about building up his fitness and getting him right so he can hopefully put together a run in the team. Tyreke Wilson is suspended, obviously a big loss. He’s been a brilliant signing for us and done well since coming in.” 

Duff also revealed that Conor Kane has stepped up his recovery from a serious knee injury by returning to full training this week. The defender who had been an ever present in the side and one of the consistently strong performers last season suffered a season ending injury in September 2022 in the 0-0 draw with Dundalk at Oriel Park. The Reds boss was thrilled to see the 24-year-old back: 

“Conor Kane is back in full training. We’re delighted to see him back, we still have to monitor and look after the contact he takes. Conor being back training with the group is another step on the long road to recovery. Look I don’t think people will be expecting to see him soon, he’s been out since September last year so there’s still a long road back, it won’t be right overnight but having him back on the grass and in full training is a great step forward and I’m delighted for Conor on a personal level.”

Brian McManus came in for his first start last week and acquitted himself well, Duff was full of praise for the energetic midfielder: “We changed things slightly in midfield, it worked well and tied in nicely with how we wanted to press Rovers and try to deal with where they hurt you. The way we wanted to play and press probably suited Brian McManus as well, it was good for Brian to get his first start, he’s had to be patient this year, but Brian has done really well.

‘’Tactics wise what we go with tomorrow night, you have to wait and see, but overall we were pleased when we reviewed last week, the lads did wonderfully well individually and as a collective, but are we disappointed we didn’t take all three points, absolutely.”

Duff’s side have been on a good run of results, having lost just one of the last six games, a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Derry at Tolka Park after a dubious decision to send off Paddy Barrett left the Reds reduced to 10 men. Games against Dundalk in recent times have all been close run affairs. Assessing the challenge Duff said:

“All been tight games, we haven’t beaten them yet in the League of Ireland but the Leinster Senior Cup game up in Oriel, we won 4-0, that was a really competitive match, they had a strong team out and it was the same on both sides. We respected the competition.

“I said last week, Dundalk are one of only two teams we’ve not beaten in the league since coming up, we want to win the game but in many ways all pressure is on Dundalk, look they are a top team in the League of Ireland, full of really talented players, brilliant manager in Stevie O’Donnell, we’ll respect them, as we do every team that comes here, or if we’re away, but the pressure in on them. They’re expected to win, they’re the favourites.”

It’s been a tricky run of games for the Lilywhites, they are without a win in 5 competitive games, but snapped a four game losing streak in all competitions last week by drawing 2-2 with Derry City. Duff feels the recent disappointments make them a dangerous side:

“Team on a tough streak is more dangerous, you always worry that maybe a team after losing a few games, when we play them then it will be us that suffers the bite off them. The recent results don’t mean much, they’re a team consistently in Europe, they hit St Pats for 5. We won’t disrespect them, as I said they are a top team, top young manager and favourites to get three points, we’ll have to be at our best to win the game.” 

Only goal difference separates the Reds in 5th place from Dundalk in 8th. Duff knows the importance of a win given how tight the division is this year with every team capable of beating each other:

“Teams taking points off each other we’re seeing consistently week in week out, there’s no easy games at all. I don’t think it’s going to change, not sure when the last season was like this where there was so much competition and such fine margins. 

“Teams are at a certain level and you can see consistently capable of beating each other, regardless of budgets. 

“One week you might lose two on the bounce and end up down near the bottom two, but if you have a good fortnight and pick up 2 or 3 wins you could end up top 2.”

The Reds will be on tv for the third time this season, with RTÉ2 in Tolka Park to broadcast the meeting with Dundalk. Duff feels his young squad, which has the second youngest average age in the Premier Division of the League of Ireland (23.1) are embracing the occasion

“As much as the FAI Cup Final was a difficult day, we knew that every game after that was going to be easier. The pressure that come with that, live tv, the showpiece game in the calendar, the whole nation watching, once you’ve come through that as a player, you can embrace and enjoy anything, any game in the league, be it on TV, Rovers away, big derbies, it’s not going to be the the same worry or pressure that was on for the FAI Cup Final.

“The lads have adjusted to it and grown as players and people and enjoy having the eyes on them now, it shows the growth, they’re happy to embrace it.” 

Tickets

Tickets for the Reds upcoming clash are available here.

TV

Watch all the action on RTÉ, coverage begins from 7:35pm with kick off at 7:45pm Commentary from Adrian Eames and Lisa Fallon.

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