It’s back down to earth with a bang for Dundalk following their elimination from Europe as they welcome Finn Harps to Oriel Park in the SSE Airtricity League on Friday night (kick-off 8pm, live on Eir Sport - buy tickets here).
The Lilywhites were knocked out of the Europa League at the third qualifying round stage by Slovan Bratislava, who beat the League of Ireland champions 3-1 at Tallaght Stadium on Tuesday night.
A visibly dejected Vinny Perth expressed his disappointment after the final whistle while remaining adamant that winning the league serves as the best means to go one better next season.
“We’re obviously disappointed at the moment,” the Dundalk head coach told the assembled press.
“The concession of the goal so early obviously made it difficult for us. Our job now as a club, as a team is to get back to this stage again. We’ve got to go and focus on winning the league.
“We can’t dwell on this too long. It will hurt for a couple of days, but the harsh reality of football is that we’ve got to focus on Friday night. We play Finn Harps and that’s just the mindset of us at the moment.”
With only 11 matches remaining, Dundalk are seven points clear the top of the Premier Division table with a game in hand and look poised to win what would be a fifth league title in six years.
“I just have to refocus our players and pick them up and aim for being back at this stage and learn from this year. We need to win it [the league] again this year so that we’re operating at this level.”
For the visit of Harps, Dundalk are again likely to be without Robbie Benson, Jordan Flores and Stephen Folan, but Dean Jarvis returns to the squad after missing both legs against Slovan Bratislava.
A resurgent Finn Harps side come into this fixture on the back of three consecutive 1-0 wins that moved the Ballybofey side within four points of safety.
However, Ollie Horgan’s in-form side face a daunting challenge when they travel to Oriel to face Dundalk, who will be overwhelming favourites to pick up yet another three points on Friday night.
“Dundalk are a serious team who have played in the Champions League and Europa League in the last month so that is the type of standard we have to try and match tomorrow night at Oriel Park,” Horgan told the club’s official website.
“Our lads are realistic to know that it is going to take some performance from us and a lot of luck to even get a point against a side that is very well placed to win the Premier Division again.
“They have had a hectic schedule with the European and FAI Cup games, but they will still see us as a huge chance to get closer to winning the league.
“We’ll have to hope that they are well below par for us to have a chance. But all we can do is focus on trying to stick to our game plan and be switched on for the entire game.
“Dundalk are a full-time professional outfit and are able to rotate the squad and freshen things up when it needs to be done.
“We don’t have the same luxuries, but we’re not complaining. Our lads would rather be going to Oriel Park tomorrow night than playing anywhere in the First Division.”
Harps will be again without goalkeeper Ciaran Gallagher, who hasn’t played since coming off injured in their last visit to Dundalk, a 3-0 defeat back in April.
Captain Keith Cowan could also miss this match having sat out the last week’s 1-0 FAI Cup defeat to Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium.
Referee: Graham Kelly.
Finn Harps haven’t beaten Dundalk since 2007 when they defeated the Lilywhites 2-0 in a promotion/relegation play-off at Finn Park. It’s 2006 since they last recorded a win at Oriel Park.
Including European matches against Riga and Qarabag, Dundalk have lost just once at Oriel this season. The opposition? None other than Athlone Town in the Leinster Senior Cup fourth round.
It’s almost a full year since Dundalk lost a league match at Oriel. The last team to do so was Shamrock Rovers, who recorded a 2-1 win at the county Louth venue on August 28th, 2018.
Dundalk 1/12; Draw 9/1; Finn Harps 28/1
Dundalk 2-0 Finn Harps
Injured: Robbie Benson, Jordan Flores, Stephen Folan.
Injured: Ciaran Gallagher, Michael Gallagher.
Doubtful: Keith Cowan.