Friday's game will go a long way to testing Shamrock Rovers' title credentials. The Hoops, who had a 13 point lead over Dundalk earlier in the season (albeit having played two games more), cannot really afford to lose to the Lilywhites in Tallaght and fall eight points behind last season’s double winners.
Rovers sit second in the table after the mid-season break and it is probably a position that most Hoops fans would have been happy with if asked before the season kicked off back in February. But having led the league for so long, that has whetted the appetite of the Rovers supporters for a real tilt at the title.
“We’ve got ourselves in a great position,” said Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley speaking to his club’s media team on the eve of the game which kicks off at 8pm and is live on eir Sport.
“We’re up fighting for the league and when you’re doing that the second part of the season always bring big games and Friday is no different. It’s the most points tally we’ve had in a long time and we’re fighting for a league so every game is going to be important now and we need to go and drive it home.
“It’ll be a tough game against Dundalk but we’re playing well and we’re really looking forward to it. When you get yourself up in the position we have, vying for a league, these are the sort of games you want and where you want to be as a club. That’s what we have now until the end of the season.”
It was a cagey 0-0 draw when the sides last met in Tallaght, while Dundalk won the other fixture this season in Oriel Park 2-1 on a night when Rovers captain Ronan Finn was deployed at full back due to an injury and suspension crisis for the Hoops.
“There’s always a bit of needle against Dundalk because we know they’re a good side,” said Finn speaking to extratime.ie on Thursday.
“For the past couple of seasons they’ve been the target. You feel if you finish ahead of Dundalk you’ve got a really good chance of winning the league. That brings its own rivalries.
“Every time we play against Dundalk there’s been very little in the game. You look at the league table and there’s not a hell of a lot in it.
“We’re at home and the onus is on us, we feel, to dominate, to get on the ball and play. The game at the start of the season at our place was a tough game with nothing really in it.
"We had marginally the better chances but, all in all, it was a tight game. Up in Oriel, they were the better side. So tomorrow we need to go and give ourselves a really good chance of getting back in it.”
The Lilywhites have had an extended mid-season break as their most recent scheduled league fixture was called off to UCD player call ups for Stephen Kenny’s Ireland under-21 team at the Toulon Tournament.
Dundalk were last played on Saturday June 8th away to Finn Harps when Michael Duffy, John Mountney and captain Brian Gartland helped the Lilywhites to a 3-0 win.
The champions should be aclimatised for Friday’s hot weather as they spent the last week in Spain on a training camp and will be fully focussed on getting three points in Tallaght and a win that could effectively knock Rovers out of the title race.
“Training has gone very well,” said John Gill speaking to dundalkfc.com. “We had a great few days away in Spain, we had a great camp and we were able to work on a few things.
“We haven’t had a game in three weeks and that has meant that we have been able to get training into the players and got bodies back fit. The players have worked so hard, they have had a brilliant attitude and we have had two to three weeks of great training.
“It is a big game, there’s no getting away from it. The players love playing in it. We are playing in a very good stadium against a very good team. We will go there full of confidence. There’s no trophies handed out tomorrow but we are in good form and we want to keep that going. “
Dundalk have won their last seven competitive games and that has helped them overhaul the Hoops at the top of the table as Rovers dropped points to Sligo, Derry and Bohemians in the seven games since Dundalk’s win over Rovers in Oriel Park.
Daniel Kelly wants to keep the momentum going. “We were on a good run before the break and we want to continue that now,” said Kelly. “We have managed to get ourselves to the top of the table and that is where we wanted to be.
“Hopefully we can keep that going now. We have Europe around the corner too which is important but we have three league games now which we want to get wins in and kick on from there.”
“It’s going to be a tough game against Shamrock Rovers tomorrow night. The games between us are always battles and tomorrow will be no different. Nothing will be won or lost in Tallaght, there’s still a long way to go in the league. A lot of football to be played.
Referee: Robert Harvey
After the mid-season break last year, Dundalk accumulated 32 points from the 39 on offer with Rovers getting 29.
In the last ten competitive games between the sides Dundalk have five wins while Rovers have just the two victories.
It is May 2017 since Shamrock Rovers last defeated Dundalk at Tallaght Stadium. Ronan Finn and Dave McAllister got the goals for the Hoops in the 2-1 win.
Shamrock Rovers 9/5; Draw 21/10; Dundalk 6/4.
Injured: Sam Bone, Aaron McEneff
Ineligible: Gary O’Neill, Neil Farrugia
Suspended: Daniel Cleary, Dean Jarvis
Ineligible: Andy Boyle
Additional reporting by Dave Donnelly.