Winner takes all in Dundalk decider
Dubliner Gartland feels Dundalk have hunger and desire to win title
IT'S a town which is used to success but which has been fed disappointment and misery for two decades.
But the current crop of Dundalk FC players feel that they have the desire to once again feed glory back into the border town - and a league title success tonight would be the starting point for what can be another special era.
The backdrop for tonight's title decider at Oriel Park - a win for Dundalk over Cork City will see them crowned champions but a draw will send the trophy south to Cork - has sparked memories for Dundalk fans of a certain age, especially their title triumphs of 1995, 1991 and 1988, on each occasion the last-day-drama bringing success to Dundalk.
Cork fans heading up to Co Louth today will also cast their minds back to past successes, their dramatic title win in 2005 when they did the needful on the final day of the campaign and snatched the title away from Derry City. Dundalk were not even in the race that season, the Lilywhites shuffling away in the obscurity of the second tier that season by finishing in the bottom half of the First Division.
But 2014 has a different complexion with both clubs challenging. The fact that they are in the race is a tribute to the current squads and managers, both John Caulfield and Stephen Kenny worthy of praise tomorrow no matter what happens tonight.
It's also a tribute to the people in the stands as both of these clubs came perilously close to going out of business in recent years, the love - and money - stumped up by supporters keeping the clubs alive and feeding the dream that becomes a reality tonight.
Dubliner Brian Gartland has found a home in Dundalk like no other in his previous career, and he senses the drive from inside the dressing room and from the town itself which he feels can lead to a title success.
"We have such ambition in this team," says Gartland, who was something of a journeyman pro before his 2013 move to Dundalk changed his career.
"At the start of this season we genuinely wanted to go on and win every trophy we were competing for. For all the top four clubs that should be your ambition, you won't win anything if you don't have that approach, if you don't set out with a winning mindset so we will be disappointed if we don't win the league.
"But Cork are the same, if they don't win the league now, seeing as they are top of the table, they will feel disappointed. We are only thinking of winning it, nothing else is in our minds.
"And I want to have a league medal to show for my career," he says. "When you look back after you are finished playing, no one will remember how you won something, only that you won it. We want to look back on our careers and have something to show for it.
"This team is so young, I think the average age is only 27 and I am the oldest outfield player. I have no doubt that these players will go on to win things, win trophies. But you need to kick start that, you want to get your first league title under your belt, there is a massive hunger and appetite here and we want to show that on the field by winning the league."
History is a big deal for Dundalk and the current crop are aware of the past and the need to have more Oriel heroes. "I have read a bit this week about the club's history, the way they won the league in 1991 and 1988 and we're in the same position, going into the last game of the season hoping to win the league. And I'd like to think that, in 20 years' time, people will remember this team as a league-winning squad," says Gartland.
"I did feel there was a league title in this team. People will think I am lying when I say that but when I signed 18 months ago, I thought I could win a league with Dundalk, I even thought we'd have a chance last season.
"That was why I signed, I saw the potential here, the team were in the top three when I signed and I felt it was a team that could win trophies. It's not a surprise to me that we are here, now we have to fulfil out potential and hopefully do that tonight," Boyle added.
Gartland has been around the houses since he hooked up with Dundalk, and it's a new experience for him.
"I have played for clubs in provincial towns, Monaghan and Portadown, and I played for Dublin clubs," he says. "I spend time around the town in Dundalk as my girlfriend is here so I know how they feel about the team. It's a football crazy town, they are fanatical about the team. What I have noticed of late is that everyone is behind us. When I played for Monaghan, I felt that was a GAA town and there wasn't much support there for the soccer team.
"My girlfriend's brothers play for Sean O'Mahonys, the team which won the county championship recently, I was out with the two lads afterwards and even though it was the GAA community everyone was keen to talk about Dundalk and support us. That's the big difference in Dundalk, other places I know have a GAA/soccer divide but everyone here is backing this Dundalk team."
Tonight those fans need a win as a draw in Oriel will gift the title to Cork, a scenario that suits them.
"We're not set up to play for a draw, we are an attacking team, that's the only way we know how to play so this suits us, having to win the game to win the league, we don't have a draw to fall back on.
"Cork will want to win the league by winning the game and not just getting a draw.
"We can't look back now, we have to ignore the last few weeks and just focus on tonight."