Stephen O’Donnell’s first competitive game in charge of Dundalk will see him come face to face with ex- Dundalk colleague Ruaidhri Higgins who now manages Derry City, the visitors to Oriel Park on Friday night.
The Lilywhites are expecting a packed house for this eagerly awaited opening match of the 2022 season, and their loyal fans will be anxious to see first hand how some of the O’Donnell’s new signings perform in the heat of battle against Higgins’s side.
Dundalk’s squad for 2022 is a very interesting mix of club stalwarts such as Brian Gartland, Patrick Hoban and David McMillian, returning stars of the past such as Robbie Benson and John Mountney and new young talent like Stephen Bradley (on loan from Hibernians), Lewis Macari (grandson of Lou Macari on loan from Stoke City) and Dan Williams (on loan from Swansea).
“Myself and Ruaidhri are good mates but there hasn’t been much talk since the fixtures came out and pitted us against each other in the first game!” O’Donnell said, speaking to the club’s media team.
“He will have high expectations this season. Last year was about consolidation at Derry City and he did that very well, especially when you consider the start they made.
“They secured European football so they will be looking to kick on this season and they have been aggressive in the transfer market and have notably taken four of our lads to The Brandywell over the winter.”
O’Donnell said: “When I arrived in December, we only had two senior players under contract and a lot of players had left so we have had to assemble a squad almost from scratch.
“Friday’s game will be the first time that a lot of the lads will have played in front of a partisan and raucous crowd. Part of being a footballer is being able to play in front of a big crowd and dealing with the reactions of supporters and I know our fans will be patient with them and give them the support and encouragement they need to develop.”
Derry City have assembled a really strong squad for 2022 with the stand out new signings being the four ex Dundalk players Michael Duffy, Patrick McElenny, Will Patching and Cameron Dummigan.
The arrival of these experienced players coupled with the financial muscle provided by billionaire chairman Phillip O’Doherty has meant that expectations are at an all time high for the year ahead.
Higgins spoke to the media at the League of Ireland launch about the pressure of the expectations for his team this year, saying,“My very first conversation with Philip (Doherty), I knew exactly what I was working with last season and I knew exactly what I was going to be working with this season.
"I know he sold his business after I took the job but regardless, the budget was always going to be there. We set our targets on who we wanted to bring in and we were relatively successful. The plan has not changed from the day I took the job.
Higgins has ambitions of building a title winning side but, “over a longer period of time. Not straight away. You have to be ambitious, of course, and we'll try to win every game that we play.
"But there's Pat's, Bohs, Dundalk, Sligo, there's loads of clubs in similar situations as us, and to make up that gap is probably unrealistic at this stage but it's important that we close that gap."
"There's huge potential but we're also very aware it's going to be a process. We're trying to give long-term contracts to make sure it's sustainable over a longer period of time.
"Instant success isn't a be-all and end-all. The chairman has been very clear from day one that he wants us to be successful over a longer period of time and not just a quick fix."
Referee: Rob Harvey
The four games between the two sides in the 2021 season saw the honours fairly even split between the two sides.
The first game in April was a 1-1 draw in the Brandywell, while each side had one victory over the course of the summer, Dundalk winning 2-1 at home in June while Derry City had a 1-0 win at home in August.
In the final game in November, Derry claimed all three points at home in a 2-1 win, Ciaran Harkin and Jamie McGonigle cancelling out Sean Murray’s opening goal for Dundalk
Dundalk 8/7; Draw 12/5; Derry City 27/10.
Dundalk 1-2 Derry City
Did you enjoy this article? If so, please consider becoming a patron of extratime.com for just €4 a month to help us cover running costs.