CSKA Moscow and Cluj lined up for friendlies in Spain
Dundalk FC captain Brian Gartland is looking forward to testing himself against two European heavyweights later this month as the champions prepare for their league opener at home to Derry City on St Valentine's Day.
It was revealed at the weekend that Vinny Perth's side would be play Romania's CFR Cluj on January 22nd and Russian outfit CSKA Moscow on January 24th as part of a week-long pre-season camp in Spain.
The two games are the highest profile matches which the Lilywhites have played in pre-season for some time and Gartland feels they will provide the perfect platform to ensure Dundalk hit the ground running when the league gets underway on February 14th.
'It definitely gives you something to look forward to because you want to give a good showing of yourself against someone like that,' Gartland said of the two games.
'If we're mid-season playing someone like that then it's a big test but two weeks into pre-season it's even more difficult for you as a player because they're mid-season. CSKA, we've always shared the same venue as them in Spain, and they're over there every year for six weeks in their mid-season break. I know they've a break but they don't stop and they're flying fit so it's great for us because we'll do all the work in terms of running before we go there but out of those two games the sharpness and what you learn from playing teams like that is brilliant and it's better than anything else really.
'I've watched CSKA train when we're over there and the amount of talent and international caps they have is unreal. Cluj as well have been a Champions League team and I think they knocked out Celtic. It's great to pit our talents against that.
'It's just brilliant for us in terms of getting our sharpness. Nothing does that like matches so the better the game the more you get out of it. When you play teams like that, it will only stand to you when it comes to Europe.'
Gartland also revealed that he expected everyone to return for pre-season in good shape.
'Graham Norton is fairly on top of things in terms of how he goes about it,' he said. 'Everyone has got a programme through an app and you have to fill in what you've done and send in shots and videos of you doing the exercises. There was another app then to track your runs so it's good. I would have always been like that anyway. I'd always have taken a couple of weeks off at the end of the season and then I'd have a certain way of doing things but I'd have always been training for most of the off season anyway.
'It's brilliant because it has us going back in with a base fitness. It allows us to start from a point further on.'
The centre half said he was hoping to build on a strong finish to the season for him personally as he competes with Sean Hoare, Daniel Cleary and Andy Boyle for one of the two positions in central defence.
'I think the last four or five weeks I came in and played against Derry at home, Pat's, the Cup final and the Linfield second leg game and I think I performed really well in all of them so I was delighted with that especially off the back of a couple of disappointing months before that.
'We'll go into a new season and it's a level playing field for everyone so you just have to dig in, do your work and put your best foot forward to be in the starting position come the start of the season. We'll all have ample game time to show what we're about but between the four of us they know what we're capable of. It's a challenge for all of us but I'm always up for that. I don't shy away for it,' he said.