A MOUTH-WATERING duel against former club Shamrock Rovers is Stephen Kenny's first competitive test as Dundalk manager - and he could have a full-strength squad to pick from for the league opener at Oriel Park on Friday (7.45pm).
Club captain Chris Shields is hoping to be given the all-clear to resume training by doctors today (Wednesday), while striker Tiarnan Mulvenna is definitely available for selection, having recovered from a pulled hamstring - and Dundalk will need all the resources they can get to give themselves a realistic chance of upsetting the title favourites.
However, whatever team he is able to put out, Kenny genuinely believes that if his side adopt a positive attitude then they can spring a surprise which would give the town a massive lift.
'We've been given the toughest start possible - Shamrock Rovers and Sligo in our first two home games and Shelbourne away - but that's what we have to face and we need to approach every challenge with confidence,' he said on Tuesday afternoon.
Kenny didn't attend Shamrock Rovers' Setanta Sports Cup tie on Monday night against Linfield which ended in a 4-1 win for the Hoops, preferring to take his new club's usual training session, and he must surely crave the prospect of putting one over the club that sacked him last September - even if he won't say it.
'I have nothing to prove to anyone there,' he insisted when asked if he was especially keen to get a result against the Hoops because of what happened six months ago. 'But I think every year as a manager you have to prove yourself and that's the way I've always viewed it.
'It's a big challenge because we finished bottom last year. Monaghan went out of the league and no one finished below Dundalk, so we have to start at the bottom and rebuild - and on Friday we have to take on the strong favourites for the league.'
With Rovers having already accounted for Coleraine over two legs before putting Linfield to the sword in Tallaght in convincing fashion, Kenny doesn't agree with the notion that playing them on the opening night of the season could be advantageous to Dundalk.
'They've had three competitive games already,' he pointed out, 'and we acknowledge their strengths, but we would rather focus on what we're good at.
'We believe in what we're doing and now we have to get ourselves right.
'The players have been fantastic. We've put high demands on them and everyone has worked extremely hard.
'We have a high degree of skill in our team - very high - and I think we have to get the balance of our team right, work hard, defend set plays and do all the other basics very well.
'But we want the players to express themselves and make sure no one is hindered in that approach. We won't have an inferiority complex and the crowd can inspire us to a victory.'
However, Kenny wouldn't be drawn on what goals Dundalk might set themselves for the season as a whole.
'I've not set any,' he responded. 'Setting goals is quite aspirational and I wouldn't limit myself on that, and I don't want to put undue pressure on the players like that. There's no point making ridiculous statements without being able to back it up.'
The visit of Rovers is the first of two home games in 72 hours for Dundalk, who host Shelbourne in an EA Sports Cup first-round tie next Monday (kick-off 7.45).
Summer League agm
The date for the Dundalk Summer league agm has been changed to Tuesday March 12th at 8pm in Oriel Park, due to Dundalk's clash with Shelbourne the previous night.
All clubs intending to take part this season must attend or send a representative. New teams wishing to join the League should contact Gus Hearty beforehand, either in writing to 13 Ashbrook, Avenue Rd, Dundalk or by calling 086-8449331. Trophies from last year should be returned at the meeting.