It has been 438 days since the fully fledged Oriel Park roar greeted Dundalk. That day was 24 February, a 3-0 defeat of Cork City pre-Covid19. Scoring three goals and keeping a clean sheet is something that has hasn’t arisen much since.
The Lilywhites currently reside in in sixth position, 13 points off Shamrock Rovers who sit top of the table. It is already looking a struggle to reel in the Hoops, a team unbeaten in their last 31 league games – although Dundalk were the last team to beat them in domestic action when the Lilywhites lifted the FAI Cup after last year’s final.
Over the years the dedicated Oriel Park faithful has whipped their side into action, providing the soundtrack to waves of sustained Dundalk attacks. The pandemic has stemmed that possibility, something interim manager Jim Magilton regrets.
“I'm devastated that there are no fans in the stadiums,” said Magilton speaking on the eve of his side’s home game. “It's not the same - it's nowhere near the same - but in some aspects fans in this stadium might be quite intimidating for one or two players.
“We've seen it in many dressing rooms where sometimes it can be a little bit intimidating and at the minute if you're going through a period like we're going through sometimes that can have a detrimental effect on players,” said Magilton.
The recent performances have not been the level the Dundalk supporters have been used to over the last decade or so. The Shed would have no qualms in letting the players know.
“They're not used to being in this position so I'm sure they would but that's part and parcel of the game. People pay good money. They work so hard all week to pay and come in and watch the game and they expect to be entertained.
“This is an entertainment business whether we like it or not. We want to entertain people and we want to win games of football.”
The next manager whoever that may be will face the wrath of the fans as there does not look like there will be an appointment sooner rather than later. July looks like it could be the first month where fans are allowed attend games once more. The search for the next boss continues.
“It is ongoing. We're collating information and we're collating CVs. We're just going to take our time. It's a massive decision for this club as you're all well aware. I'm going to be around for the next few weeks and then we'll get there in the end. There's a lot of noise around it of course.”
Liam Buckley’s Sligo side are next on the agenda for Dundalk as Magilton and assistant coaches Stephen McDonnell and Giuseppe Rossi continued to prepare the team for Friday night’s game.
Han Jeongwoo has returned to training, however Sam Stanton, Sonni Nattestad, David McMillan, Patrick Hoban and Brian Gartland all remain out of contention.
Sligo were full value for their point on the opening day when the sides last met and would have felt hard done by after having a potential winner ruled out incorrectly for offside.
“They've got a good threat, they've got good footballers who know the league, they're very experienced, they've got pace. We're relishing the opportunity of playing them and we're looking forward to it and hopefully we'll present ourselves positively.”
The prospect of European football now lies in limbo as Dundalk aim to climb the table, never mind regain the league title from Shamrock Rovers.
“The bare minimum for us is Europe, and to be winning games of football. You have seen the success of this football club, the core group of the players is still here, and now it's a different challenge.
“The bottom line is, they need to win the game and they are aware of that. Win the game, go to Longford, win the game, you don't win and it's another two points dropped but Friday night is win the game, end of story, I don't care how you win the game, win it, end of story.”
The rotation of goalkeepers has been a bone of contention for the Dundalk supporters. Peter Cherrie has played the last two games but was at fault for both of Longford’s goals last Monday. Magilton is looking now for consistency.
“I love consistency. I love consistency in message, and I love consistency in team selections and that's important. I think by and large we've done that over the last four games, albeit through injury we've had to make one or two changes but that happens throughout the course of a season. What I want from this football club is consistency and a quiet period and I want us to win games of football.”
Magilton has taken a step from his sporting director role toward the training ground. The former Northern Irish international has been enthused with what he has seen behind the scenes.
“It's a 90-minute thing for you guys (journalists) and I get that and of course you judge our performances on the 90 minutes but I'm watching the squad, taking information in, speaking to the staff. It's amazing when you do go back into it, it's about characters and personalities and you're finding out every day about characters and personalities and you're weighing everything up.”
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