Lilywhites 'now the team to beat' insists Melligan
Dundalk star says current leaders are primed to battle for top spot
THEY WERE 25/1 outsiders to win the league at the start of the season, but people are starting to take Dundalk FC a lot more seriously after a run of four wins in five games has put Ian Foster's side top of the table.
And Dundalk's Dublin-born midfielder JJ Melligan believes that his side are now the team that everyone wants to beat, starting with tonight's big clash against second-placed St Patrick's Athletic at Richmond Park.
Dundalk boss Foster, at 33 the youngest manager in the league, has been working hard to play down aspirations and title talk at Oriel Park as fans, starved of real success for 15 years, start to wonder if that 25/1 long-shot of a bet at the start of the season could pay off.
Realists within the club and the support know that Dundalk have a very small squad, with just 14 players handed starts in the league so far this season, and that squad will be stretched and tested when League Cup, FAI Cup and Europa League games kick in later this season.
But Melligan insists the players will enjoy their moment in the sun for as long as it lasts. "We're the team to beat at the moment, we're the league leaders and we are where everyone else wants to be," says the former Ireland U21 cap, who joined Dundalk from Leyton Orient at the start of the season.
"We're not shouting from the rooftops about winning the league or anything like that, it's way too soon in the season for that kind of talk.
"We're not allowing ourselves to get carried away as there's such a long way to go. We're on a good run now and deserve to be top of the table -- but if we have a bad run we'll be right down the table, we're aware of that.
"The good thing is that people are aware of us now. I don't think people paid Dundalk too much attention in the pre-season but we're top of the table now on merit.
"The bit of success we've had brings its challenges too, and we know that as well. We're seen as a scalp by other teams below us in the table so other teams are raising their game when they play us and we have to deal with that.
"That's why we're expecting a big game against Pats tonight. They were on top of the table for a few weeks and they won't like seeing us ahead of them in the table so they'll be desperate to get the win against us, and we have to deal with that," added Melligan, capped once at U21 level in 2003.
Just like any young Irish player who came through the ranks at Molineux after a certain lad from Tallaght, Melligan was touted as one of the new Robbie Keanes, and in November 2002, after loan spells with Bournemouth and Kidderminster, he was handed his Wolves debut by boss Dave Jones, in the same team as people like Denis Irwin, Mark Kennedy and Keith Andrews.
But in all he made just two appearances for Wolves and later had spells with Cheltenham and Orient, scoring 34 league goals in his English career.
Recently he was unhappy at The Os and fell out with manager Geraint Williams over his role in the team, the result of which was Melligan's departure and his move to Dundalk.
It's not a long-term deal as Melligan only signed a one-year contract, and with his partner and child still living in England, he has a call to make on his future when the League of Ireland season ends in November.
"I'm not thinking too far into the future, I'll just get the season out of the way and see how things are then," says Melligan, who along with Tom Miller in midfield has been one of the star performers for Dundalk this season.
Tonight's trip to Richmond Park is a sort of homecoming for the former Home Farm player as he had a brief spell with St Pats earlier in his career. "When I was over at Wolves things weren't going that well for me and I had a bad bout of homesickness, so I came back to Dublin for a few months," he says.
"I trained with Pats for a couple of weeks and I played one game for them, but that's all it was.
"As a Dubliner playing for Dundalk it's good for me to come and play the Dublin clubs in the Dundalk shirt. I'm from Whitehall so Sporting Fingal are just around the corner, Bohs are only down the road, and I love playing in places like Richmond Park and Tallaght, they're like home games to me," he says.
The good start to the season at St Pats has been slowed down by recent results, with back-to-back defeats against Shamrock Rovers and UCD.
"We want to get back to winning ways but Dundalk are absolutely flying it at the moment so it will be a severe test for us," says Pats boss Pete Mahon.
"UCD (on Monday night) was our first away defeat and while it was disappointing I felt we created plenty of chances but simply did not take them.
"That's something we've been working on in training. Defeats are hard to take but we'll keep working hard and I'm sure it will come right again, they're the same players so nothing has changed."