Dundalk FC have traditionally been one of the most successful teams in the Republic of Ireland, claiming 14 senior trophies from 1976 to 1995, but the last decade has seen more bad times than good for fans at Oriel Park. Indeed, an FAI Cup success in 2002 was the only bright spot while the club endured a painful seven-season stay in the second tier.
The 2010 campaign has kicked off amid plenty of promise, however, with a vibrant side managed by 33-year-old former Kidderminster Harriers FC striker Ian Foster recently hitting the top of the league for the first time since they won the title in 1995. "You'd rather be there than anywhere else," said Foster, whose charges nonetheless dropped to third following Friday's 2-1 loss at new leaders Sporting Fingal.
Dundalk's good start is even more remarkable considering that Foster – who took over at the start of the season following a spell in charge of Galway United FC – began this term with only five players who saw out last season at the club: goalkeeper Peter Cherrie, defenders Liam Burns, Nathan Murphy and Shaun Kelly, and striker Tiarnán Mulvenna. The manager used contacts in the United Kingdom to bring in Tom Miller from Rangers FC and former Ireland youth cap JJ Melligan, while locally produced teenagers such as Johnny Breen and Ciarán McGuigan are already playing for the first team.
Club captain Burns is not getting carried away, though. "We obviously moved top of the table but we are a long way off being title challengers and the squad are certainly not getting ahead of themselves – and nor should the supporters," he said. "If you look at the size of our budget and our playing squad compared to four or five clubs in the league, there's no comparison. We've got to be realistic."
A fifth-placed finish last season put Dundalk into the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League, thanks to the two clubs finishing above them – Cork City FC and Derry City FC – being demoted. The likes of PSV Eindhoven, Celtic FC, HNK Hajduk Split and FC Porto have all faced tough games in Dundalk in the past, but the Lilywhites have not played in UEFA competition since 2002, and their last European home game at Oriel Park was in 1991 as home ties in 1995 and 2002 had to be played elsewhere.
With the stadium expected to be ready for action in the summer, Burns hopes European competition could benefit his side, explaining: "What I feel we need to do is get to July, not pick up many injuries and maybe get through one or two rounds in the UEFA Europa League which will hopefully bring a little bit of money in. That might allow us to add a couple more bodies to the squad."