It may have been the first pre-season friendly of 2020 for Dundalk but there were still a few things which happened on a bitterly cold night at Oriel Park which may provide a glimpse into the season to come for both UCD and Dundalk.
Three at the back
With four quality centre halves in Vinny Perth's squad it makes sense to see if you can get an extra one on the field. Couple that with the fact that the Lilywhites have some of the most talented attacking full backs in the league and a wing back system seems a logical one to try out.
Hence, the starting defence last night saw Andy Boyle at centre back with Sean Hoare to his left and Daniel Cleary on his right. John Mountney (right) and Dane Massey (left). Perth did experiment with this system for a half last season but reformed the shape for the second half as its effectiveness was minimal.
Last night provided no real evidence to show that things had changed much- two of the three first half goals scored came from crosses in the same position on the right touchline about ten yards back from the edge of the penalty area- a position from where Cleary also claimed a number of assists as a marauding centre back last season.
No doubt, as well as accommodating the centre half issue, that the system is geared towards the European campaign later in the season. Having extra bodies in midfield allows the opposition less time on the ball and traditionally this is an area of dominance for European teams when facing League of Ireland opposition.
I’d expect to see further experimentation with three at the back during Dundalk's Spanish training camp next week with CFR Cluj and CSKA Moscow in opposition.
The Leinster Senior League production line
While undoubtedly Dundalk’s attacking prowess benefitted from the addition of former St Pat’s CY winger Dan Kelly to their ranks last season, this section is concerned moreso with the way UCD use their LSL side to unearth some of their players. To compensate for the blow of losing ROI Under 21 international Conor Kearns, last night they turned to Lorcan Healy to fill the gap between the sticks.
Less than a week ago he was playing with the UCD LSL side, for whom he is their reigning 2019 LSL Sunday Player of the Year after graduating from the Saturday side. Last season saw Dara Keane progress quickly through the LSL ranks before graduating to the League of Ireland panel, continuing the trend of others such as Timmy Molloy (2016).
Last night saw four LSL players debut for the club in the form of Healy, Abdel Babikar, Cian Ryan and Harvey O'Brien. It’s also the route taken by Niall Corbet who progressed from playing Leinster Senior League to Europa League during his time at the club.
A product of the Malahide Utd and St Kevin’s Boys Academy, the 21-year-old made his Republic of Ireland under-17 debut in August 2014 and has since been capped at under-19 level and most recently made his under-21 bow under former Dundalk supremo Stephen Kenny.
The left sided defender, most notably a full back but a centre back in his younger days, spent time in England with Coventry City (2015-18) before returning to Dublin in the winter of 2018 to play with Bohemians where he had an excellent debut season and played in the Toulon Tournament for the Republic of Ireland.
Last night’s half hour cameo saw him link up well with fellow substitute Michael Duffy down the left flank, setting up a goal for Patrick Hoban as well as netting a tidy header himself. Since arriving at Dundalk in 2013, Dane Massey has had some tough competition for the left back slot, most notably the likes of Shane Grimes and Dean Jarvis – both experienced Premier Division players. However, this season may see the most competitive battle yet.
The striker has been a name on many people’s radar for several years thanks to his goalscoring exploits for the Waterford FC Underage sides over the past number of seasons. The 19-year-old debuted for the club towards the end of the 2017 season, while 2018 saw him join current Dundalk forward Lido Lotefa and his now UCD teammate Liam Kerrigan in the FAI Schoolboys side which won the Centenary Shield under the stewardship of Finn Harps coach William O’Connor.
The silverware continued for Whelan in 2019 as his Waterford FC under-19 side won the under-19 crown beating Galway Utd in the final, having overcome Dundalk in the quarter finals – Whelan scoring the opener in a 3-2 win for Gary Power’s side. Whelan ended up with 27 league goals in the regular season before departing for UCD, for whom he has already won the Harding Cup, again netting in the final.
Last night at Oriel Park he showed a glimpse of what could be to come at adult level as he swivelled on a Yoyo Mahdy cutback to arrow the ball into the top corner of Gary Rogers' net late in the first half to cut the deficit to 2-1. He was replaced, as the majority of the UCD starting XI were, at half time but will have pleased Andy Myler, himself an accomplished marksman, with his strike.