A NUMBER of places in the team for next week's mouth-watering league opener against Shamrock Rovers will be up for grabs when Dundalk host Drogheda United in this Friday's Jim Malone Cup clash (7.45pm).
Having played a number of pre-season games manager Stephen Kenny and his assistant Vinny Perth are still undecided about their strongest starting XI, but their thinking will become a good deal clearer after the annual friendly against their great neighbours.
Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Kenny said: 'We are only formulating our team at the moment and there are definitely places up for grabs. Really strong performances from one or two individuals can put them into the team. I'm certain about that.
'Our squad is small, and all the players will want to play against Shamrock Rovers, so it's a big motivation for them going into the Drogheda game.'
Kenny sampled his first-ever Jim Malone Cup tie 12 months ago and he'll be hoping that Dundalk emerge unscathed after the Boynesiders emerged from a hard-fought duel with a 1-0 victory.
'It seemed to be a bruising encounter which would not be welcome in pre-season, but this one should be a good game. I would like to see us tested defensively a bit more and Drogheda will do that.
'I don't think we'll be going all out to win it. The league is coming up and that's our priority and we want to prepare well for that.'
Kenny's team got some more match time under their belt on Monday night when they drew 1-1 with a Northern Ireland selection mostly comprised of players from the Irish League First Division. Kurtis Byrne was on the mark again as the young striker scored his sixth goal in six pre-season fixtures.
On Friday Kenny is likely to hand starting places to the likes of Vinny Faherty, Darren Meenan and John Mountney, all of whom have had limited game time until now, while new signing Aaron Shanahan - who is returning to Oriel for a third spell - could feature at some stage in goal. However, Stephen O'Donnell was suffering from tight hamstrings after Monday's friendly and won't be risked against the Boynesiders.
Drogheda, who play Derry City away in the first leg of their Setanta Sports Cup quarter-final next Monday, may feature former Dundalk trio Declan O'Brien, Peter Hynes and Michael Daly in their starting XI.
'It was a good workout for us against the Northern Ireland selection - our first game on grass,' Kenny reflected. 'The first couple of away games [in the league are against Shelbourne and UCD and although I haven't seen Tolka recently pitches are difficult at this time of year, and traditionally rugby is played on UCD's pitch at this time of year.
'We want to make sure we're prepared for all our games and so we were glad to get a game on grass.
'I still think we're not perfect. There are areas we need to improve on, but pre-season has gone quite well and we've scored some good goals and played some very good football.
'We are retaining possession very well and we have to continue to do that because if you control a game it gives you a better chance of winning.
'We don't want to be forcing systems on players and playing them out of position, but we're going to have to adapt with the players we've got and be flexible.'
Meanwhile, any lingering doubts about the club's eligibility for this year's top flight were removed on Monday when the Club Licensing Committee awarded them a full Premier licence, after being satisfied by extra information provided in relation to the transfer of ownership to the new company running Dundalk FC.
DUNDALK (v Northern Ireland XI): Peter Cherrie, John Sullivan, Dane Massey, Andy Boyle, Mark Rossiter, Stephen O'Donnell, Richie Towell, Keith Ward, John Dillon, Patrick Hoban, Kurtis Byrne. Subs used: Vinny Faherty, Eoghan Osborne, Darren Meenan, Stephen McDonnell, Sami Osobe, Aaron Shanahan.