2024 Season Preview: Dundalk

Andy Boyle will be an experienced presence at the heart of the Dundalk defence in 2024

Andy Boyle will be an experienced presence at the heart of the Dundalk defence in 2024 Credit: Larry McQuillan (ETPhotos)

Head Coach: Stephen O’Donnell

Stadium: Oriel Park

In: Dara Keane (UCD), Koen Oostenbrink (FC Eindhoven), Robbie Mahon (Motherwell), Ross Munro (Ross County), Jamie Gullan (Raith Rovers), Ciaran McGuckin (Rotherham United - loan), Jamie Walker, Scott High (Huddersfield Town - loan), Zak Bradshaw (Lincoln City - loan), George Shelvey (Nottingham Forest), Zak Johnson (Sunderland - loan).

Out: Daniel Kelly (Derry City), Keith Ward (Shelbourne), John Martin (Shelbourne), Robbie McCourt (Waterford), Mark Byrne (Glenavon), Darragh Leahy (Waterford), Connor Malley (Sligo Rovers), Patrick Hoban (Derry City), Senan Mullen (Torino), Darren Brownlie, Greg Sloggett (Cheltenham Town).

Re-signed: Luke Mulligan, Robbie Benson, Mayowa Animasahun.

extratime.com Key Player: Robbie Benson

The ex UCD midfielder is a key member of the Lilywhites squad with his professionalism and experience off the field as influential as his ball playing skills on it. His opening season at the club, back in 2016, saw iconic goals against BATE Borisov and Legia Warsaw top his highlights reel. Since then he has been recast as an emergency left back at times and suffered a couple of long term injuries- most recently a hamstring issue saw him chalk up just 14 Premier Division appearances in 2023.

However, when fit and starting, the 31 year old is one of the most experienced and intelligent midfielders in the league. His versatility allows him to play in a number of positions across the midfield and, in pre season, Stephen O’Donnell has used his ability to read the game by giving him the licence to set the pressing traps for the opposition defence high up the field.

With both Dara Keane and Paul Doyle vying for midfield spots at Oriel Park this season, the potential exists for a trio of former Students to occupy the engine room throughout the campaign. Athlone native Benson will be hoping to record his 300th Premier Division appearance this season and will most likely rack up his 200th outing for Dundalk beforehand- he’s currently sitting on 288 and 190 appearances respectively.

Dundalk fans will be hoping to see these figures ascend rapidly as it will mean their left footed  number eight will be playing a consistent role in his sixteenth season in the league since debuting as a sixteen year old for hometown side Athlone Town in 2008.


extratime.com One to Watch: Robbie Mahon

The former Bohemians attacker arrived at Oriel Park following a spell in Scotland at Motherwell. 

Having been capped internationally at underage level, the 20 year old was part of the Bohemians Under 19 side which reached the Enda Guill Cup Final in 2021- dumping Dundalk out in the quarter finals - before departing for Scotland at the turn of the year.

Following a number of loans in the Scottish lower leagues, the Dubliner is back in the League of Ireland keen to make a mark on the landscape here at senior level. A player full of bags of pace and tricky feet, the versatile forward can be a difference maker for the Lilywhite attack in 2024- especially on the transition.

WIth the jet heeled Sam Durrant arriving in their ranks midway through the season, Dundalk doubled their tally of pacy wingers with Ryan O’Kane ploughing a lonely furrow at the start of the campaign. With Mahon onboard now for 2024, it means the Carrick Road side have a trio of speedsters available to offer attacking threats both on the flanks and through the centre.


What to expect this year: 

With a change in ownership during the offseason, much has been spoken about Dundalk’s plans for the future with floodlights and the surface of the pitch to the fore of the issues raised. Boston based Dubliner Brian Ainscough who has taken the reins following his departure from Kerry FC, has been open regarding his desire to improve standards off the field. On the playing side, it appears that he has backed Stephen O’Donnell with eleven new signings, eight of them permanent and a number of Academy players signing professional deals.

Delving into the arrivals in a little more depth and it appears that a pattern is emerging in O’Donnell’s fledgling career in the managerial hotseat. At both St Pat’s and Dundalk, O’Donnell has placed his faith in younger goalkeepers than the average Premier Division outfit and this season has seen that trend continue with 23 year old Ross Munro and 22 year old George Shelvey vying for the starting position between the posts- neither of whom has played in the league before.

Further up the field 24 year old Dutch midfielder Koen Oostenbrink brings experience from the Dutch Second Division while Scott High, on loan from Huddersfield Town, has over 50 English Championship outings and ex UCD versatile engine room operator Dara Keane shone for The Students in 2023. How the trio will settle in to take the places of the departed Greg Sloggett, Connor Malley and Keith Ward will have a big bearing on how Dundalk will succeed this season. 

While the aforementioned newly arrived three players may need bedding in time, having a fully fit Robbie Benson, John Mountney (newly installed as club skipper) and Daryl Horgan at the same time wasn’t a luxury available to O’Donnell for much of 2023 so their presence may help offset the amount of experience which departed the side at the end of the season.

As well as the aforementioned, attackers John Martin, Dan Kelly and record club goalscorer Pat Hoban had plenty of League of Ireland miles on the clock. The likes of newly arrived Robbie Mahon, Ciaran McGuckin and Jamie Gullan bring bags of potential and will hope to translate their promise into performances. Adding to that, the likes of Louis Annesley, Hayden Muller, Cameron Elliott and Sam Durrant are a year further on in their own development.

Having finished 3rd in 2022 and 5th the following season, Dundalk fans are aware of the fact that they are not automatically going to feature in talk of a title push. However, if they are going to end their year exodus from Europe, the new arrivals will need to find their feet quickly- especially those at the top end of the pitch as the goals of Martin, Hoban and Kelly will need to be replaced.

Fourth place isn’t beyond the Lilywhites but a lot will also depend on their seasoned campaigners remaining fit- as an example, experienced defender Andy Boyle featured in half of Dundalk’s league games last season and they remained undefeated the last eight times he pulled on a Lilywhite jersey in 2023, while the side won 5 of the last 6 league games Daryl Horgan took part in.

Anything representing a title challenge would be an outstanding achievement for a squad which has been radically overhauled, while being drawn into a relegation battle is an unlikely outcome given the presence of quality performers such as Benson, Boyle, Horgan, Archie Davies and Paul Doyle. 

First game: Shamrock Rovers away, February 16th.