Opinion - Which Dundalk player will emerge from the shadows?

16th November 2023

SSE Airtricity League reporter Ciaran Callan was at the 2-1 win over Shamrock Rovers and has assessed Stephen Kenny's options after losing Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle and Ronan Finn in the off-season... -------------------------------------------------

SSE Airtricity League reporter Ciaran Callan was at the 2-1 win over Shamrock Rovers and has assessed Stephen Kenny's options after losing Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle and Ronan Finn in the off-season...


Which Dundalk FC player will emerge as the star shining bright from the departed ones shadow?

Following a shortened pre season and a lot of work completed both on and off the pitch, who will be the player to emerge from the shadows following another set of big departures from Oriel Park.

Following the final whistle in the Netanya Stadium in Israel last December the writing for two of Dundalk FC’s stars was very much on the wall. Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle were outstanding both on the domestic and European front as a historic 2016 season came to a close for Dundalk FC. The pairing over the following days would sign for Championship side Preston North End, it was never a case of if but when the two would leave Oriel Park and the focus turned to how Stephen Kenny would choose to replace them.

For Horgan’s replacement it seems the player that was seen as the direct replacement for Richie Towell last season is going to actually be Daryl Horgan’s this season. Patrick McEleney, the Derry native who has grown in great stature, acclaim and reputation since he arrived to Oriel Park is the player I believe to really look for in this Dundalk team. If there was one performance of note from last season that showed exactly why McEleney is rated so highly it was the instrumental performance against FC BATE Borisov in the Tallaght Stadium. When Dundalk needed a player to grab the game by the scruff of the neck it was McEleney, his technical ability and pace to take on players that were deemed far superior to him and it was just a pleasure to watch. I know personally following the final whistle on that historic night I made a point of pulling him away for thirty seconds from the jubilant celebrations to tell him that I felt he was one of the key reasons the game was won that night, he was simply majestic. Now he has to do it not from time to time, he needs to do it every week. McEleney will become the focal creative output of this team and if the early signs are to suggest he is going to relish this role with the same drive and vigour we saw that fateful night in Tallaght last summer. 

And what of case of Andy Boyle? The Dublin native departed also for Preston and some pundits believe Dundalk will rue the loss of the talented defender more than that of precocious Horgan. Stephen Kenny’s side has always been one that has had a solid and confident defence and traditionally lead the team from the back line, three out of the four defenders who have served Kenny so well remain but its the void left to be filled that is the big question. Sean Hoare and Niclas  Vemmelund were both close season signings that come with big reputations but it could be a player already at the club that could fill the gaping hole left by Boyle. Paddy Barrett had a summer to remember last season when he stepped into the European campaign suddenly against FH Hafnarfjordur replacing the injured Brian Gartland. As the euro adventure continued for Dundalk his composure and strength in the back line grew along with his self belief and confidence. The Waterford native is certainly a player who could make the position his own and I believe in time the centre back will emulate the previous player wearing the iconic number four jersey at the club. 

And what of the others? It seems by early indications that European goal scorer Ciaran Kilduff, if luck stays with him and he remains injury free will have a much bigger role at the club this season. His height and physical presence will give Dundalk a different dynamic to the pace and fine finishing of David McMillan, the pair will be needed at different parts of the season when some matches are required to be won in a certain way, its about adaptation and development to the state of play. 

Robbie Benson has given everyone food for thought about his technically ability along with a keen eye for goal from midfield, one of Dundalk’s key strengths in the previous seasons has been that the goals have come from all around the pitch and not just one key player, Benson has proved time and time again if he sees a chance he will not be afraid to take it, just ask Arkadiusz Malarz of Legia Warsaw. 

Michael Duffy is certainly a player who will excite the Oriel Park faithful, his trickery and pace down the left wing will make him a firm favourite at Dundalk and like many others before him is coming with a big reputation following his move from Celtic in the close season. If he can continue to grow into the side like he has done in the early aspect of this season he may a player to reek havoc in this league alongside his old Derry teammate McEleney. 

Conor Clifford is a player who I think has the same shape and mould of the previously departed Richie Towell, but does he have the same swagger as the Bluebell native? The Dubliner has returned home following a mixed bag experience over in England and hopefully to Dundalk’s advantage he will fall in love with the game again. Time will tell on this latter statement but he certainly looks like the real deal and will be valuable asset to the club both on and off the pitch at Oriel Park. 

The truth is Dundalk have shown in the past they have been able to adapt to the departures of their big players and this year will be no exception. One can’t simply replace the players of the talent and magnitude to a team like those of Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan, its now a case once again of proving the doubters wrong like when Dundalk have been written off in the past. They have done it before, can they do it again? Time will be the judge of that but one thing is for certain its going to be an exciting season by all accounts.