Football/Soccer

Dundalk aiming to bounce back to winning ways against Linfield

Dundalk manager Vinny Perth
Caoimhin Reilly

Vinny Perth hopes Dundalk’s two-legged Unite the Union Champions Cup clash with Linfield can boost calls for an all-island league.

The Lilywhites travel to Windsor Park tonight after Sunday’s FAI Cup final penalty shoot-out defeat by Shamrock Rovers, which saw their tilt at a domestic treble fall short.

However, Dundalk resumed training early in the week in a bid to ready themselves for the double-header against David Healy’s men and visit Belfast with virtually a fully fit panel.

That means the return of Chris Shields, the Louth side’s influential midfielder who missed the Aviva Stadium showpiece against Rovers through suspension. Derry man Patrick McEleney could also come back into the squad following a hamstring injury.

“I hope it goes well, the two games against Linfield,” Perth said.

“We’re such a professional group and knowing these players, we’ll be recovered and prepared for what is another big weekend potentially for Irish football.

“I know the All-Ireland league got a setback, but hopefully it’s a good game and occasion.

“On the pitch, I think we’ve made great strives for Irish football and League of Ireland, so I think this is another opportunity.”

Dundalk chiefs are believed to have backed Kieran Lucid’s plans for a merger of the League of Ireland and NIFL, with chairman Mike Treacy calling the proposals “significantly more economically sustainable for clubs vs the current league structure”.

Outgoing Chief Executive Mark Devlin, whose departure was announced on Tuesday, attended a recent meeting on the all-island league, which was held in Dundalk. He, too, was optimistic over its potential.

“Of course there will be challenges, but nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without hard work,” he said.

“It is definitely a very exciting project and there is great potential, but obviously there is more work to be done.”

Though with the IFA having categorically rejected the plans, this meeting of the champions from either side of the border holds an added attractiveness for those involved, Dundalk defender Seán Hoare especially.

“It’s different to other years because the cup final is usually the last game and you’re done for the season,” Hoare said after Sunday’s loss.

“Now we have to get back down to business and give that (Linfield tie) a right go.

“And maybe this competition can become a really big cup, so to be part of this first one is great.”

Dundalk’s last game at the North’s National Stadium came in a 2011 Setanta Cup affair, which The Lilywhites memorably won 5-3 with winger Daniel Kearns, now of Linfield, scoring a hat-trick. The second leg finished 1-1 at Oriel Park.

In spite of their commitment to tonight and Monday, the Lilywhites have already begun preparations for next season with Derry City midfielder Greg Sloggett poised to join on a two-year deal.

The Dubliner only signed for the Candystripes last winter and enjoyed a hugely successful term as Declan Devine’s team qualified for Europe.

Sloggett, though, is believed to want to move closer to home, with Oriel Park seen as the ideal location.

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Football/Soccer