Events during the past week have made it difficult to identify a discernable transfer strategy on Dundalk's part, and on the eve of their biggest game of the season, the visit of title and European rivals Derry City to Oriel Park, on Friday night, supporters will be anxious to see if recent decisions, particularly in relation to Mark Connolly, are the right ones.
Almost certainly Connolly, who had been the backbone of Dundalk defence in the team's unexpected climb to second in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division table, above Friday's opponents, will be at the heart of the Candystripes defence having signed a two-and-a-half-year contract last week.
The 30-year-old central defender joined Derry from Dundee United for an undisclosed fee, and while Dundalk had indicated that they had been in negotiations with the Scottish club and the player since his six-month loan period was finishing at the end of June, it is not altogether clear if Dundalk failed to match the offer made by Derry or if it was the player's preference to join the Foylesiders because of family reasons.
Unquestionably, Dundalk baulked at the figures involved in securing Connolly's signature, for apart from the fee sought by Dundee, there was the risk that in meeting the player's demands, they would upset the delicate wage balance within the squad.
Whatever about the in and outs of the Connolly saga, the reality is that the player is now with Derry and likely to receive a mixed reception along with a number of former Oriel Park favourites, Cameron Dummigan, Patrick McEleney, Will Patching and Michael Duffy when they visit on Friday.
Having failed to secure Connolly's signature, Dundalk, surprisingly, went stronger into the transfer market than many anticipated, for the early indications were that they would be confining themselves to seeking defensive cover for Connolly's departure. But, in addition to securing Robbie McCourt from Sligo Rovers for that role, they signed English midfielder Alfie Lewis and took Norwegian winger Eunar Hauge on-loan from Hibernian.
Three for the price of one may be the way Dundalk look at the situation, for they have secured three young players – two on permanent deals – for possibly the same outlay involved in securing Connolly's signature.
But is it value for money ?
VALUE FOR MONEY?
Only time will tell and Friday's game in which Connolly will have a pivotal role to play in containing his former captain, Patrick Hoban, will go a long way in deciding the game and, in the process, answering that question.
Certainly, the three new recruits, who are all in their early 20s, will bring down the age profile in the squad, and, on the surface, would appear to tie in with the club's strategy of bringing in promising young players, either on permanent deals or loans, and developing them.
But it is the decision to take in one of those players, 20-year-old Hauge from Hibernian, that has baffled, for the priority with most supporters was not in securing another winger, but instead a striker as cover for Hoban, for neither David McMillan or the infrequently used John Martin have looked like providing the answer.
The signing of Hauge, who has made just two senior appearances with Hibernian since signing in January last from Bodo/Glimt in his native Norway, also poses obvious questions about Dundalk's commitment to developing their own local talent.
Most supporters of the League of Ireland (LOI) know that the only means by which substantial revenue can be generated to develop a club, a team to compete with the best and spectator facilities, is through a return from transfer fees and European football money.
Shamrock Rovers are leading the way in recent seasons in securing substantial funds on transfers, and Sligo Rovers – great credit to them with their exploits in Europe this season – are reaping the reward in their current run of being able to stage their European matches at the Showgrounds because of their strategic investment in their ground.
Dundalk, on the other hand, are unable to stage all but preliminary games in Europe in Oriel Park despite the millions generated in European football since 2016, and they are now open to accusations that they have failed to provide a pathway for the promising talent in their academy teams.
That contention has surfaced again over the last week with the reported departure of the promising Mark Hanratty from Oriel Park because he believed that he hadn't been given his chance, and the signing of Hauge will make it more difficult for another promising player, Ryan O'Kane, to get the game-time with the first-team to attract the attention of foreign clubs.
The Dundalk-born winger, who can play on either flank, must have been the most disappointed player in the squad to hear that another winger had been signed, and that frustration would have been accentuated by the inclusion of the Norwegian in the starting line-up for Friday night's FAI Cup tie with Longford just days after he arrived at the club.
O'Kane, who had some promising moments in his brief cameo appearances in recent weeks with the first-team, and continues to impress with the U19s, was entitled to believe that he would get a start against Longford, but, credit to the player, he took his opportunity when he did replace Hauge with half an hour remaining, displaying his full range of skills, especially his run along the backline that set-up the fourth goal for Greg Sloggett.
Admittedly, the 18-year-old was introduced into the game at a time when the Longford part-timers were flagging and the game was won, while, in contrast, Hauge carried the burden of trying to make an impact in his first game in a new team, in a country he had perhaps never visited before, and against a visiting team that played with great resolve and were well-organised in that first half.
In time, the Hibernian loanee may prove to be a good addition to the squad, for he appears to have the pedigree having come though the impressive Norwegian nursery system, but knowing that clubs look for guarantees of regular playing time when they loan out their players, the question must be asked if Dundalk needed an another winger when they have Steven Bradley, Daniel Kelly, O'Kane, Joe Adams and, at times, Martin competing for the wide positions.
The other two signings made during the past week, McCourt and Lewis, who will strengthen the squad after the departure of Connolly, Hanratty and Dan Williams, and injuries to Brian Gartland and Mayowa Animasahun, could be viewed as more long-term investments.
Dublin-born McCourt, who joined West Brom as a 15-year-old from that conveyor belt of talent, St Kevin's schoolboys, spent five seasons at the Hawthorns before returning to Ireland where he joined Bohemians and then Waterford, where he played a full season.
He joined Sligo from Waterford, playing with the Westerners for most of last season, but the player, who can play in defence or midfielder, got limited opportunities this season, hence his decision to jump at a chance when Stephen O'Donnell urgently needed cover for Andy Boyle and Sam Bone after Connolly's departure and the injuries to Gartland and Animasahun.
McCourt (22), who was in Stephen Kenny's U21 squad at one stage, can fit in at the back or as a defensive midfielder and seeing that he is short of match fitness, it was surprising that he wasn't brought into the side against Longford when the game was won to give him the feel of the ground and get to know his teammates.
It wasn't that the central defensive pairing of Boyle and Bone was stretched or, indeed, convincing that they will be able to cope against Derry's strikeforce, for in the first half particularly, there was a lack of understanding between the pair, while it was embarrassing the number of times they gave the ball away, regularly overhitting their forwards, with Bone the biggest culprit in this regard.
McCourt is, therefore, unlikely to start against Derry, nor it would appear is the third new signing, creative midfielder Lewis, although O'Donnell will be more than familiar with the player's strengths having had him on-loan from West Ham at St Patrick's Athletic for most of last season and where he played 31 times, scoring three goals.
The Leigh-on-Sea native, who is 22, had been on the Hammers books since the age of eight, but the nearest he got to the first-team was when he was an unused sub in a 3-2 win over Chelsea at the London Stadium, and, in February 2021, he was loaned to Pat’s.
After his release by West Ham after 13 years, he continued to see out the season with Pat’s before joining League 1 side Plymouth Argyle in January last, making his debut three days later, but he made just the two appearances for the club.
Undoubtedly, the best spell in the Londoner's career was spent at Pat’s, where he started last season's Cup final in the Aviva, helping his side to a penalty shootout win over Bohemians, and such was his popularity with the Richmond Park faithful that they nicknamed him "The Cockney Pirlo" in reference to the legendary Italian midfielder, Andrea Pirlo.
No doubt the Shed will be anxious to adopt that nickname, and if the player shows the form he consistently produced during his time under O'Donnell at Pat’s, he will be a very welcome addition to Dundalk's midfield.
Lewis will likely be earmarked for the number 10 role by O'Donnell because for most of the season, Dundalk have struggled for a creative spark in that position with Keith Ward, Robbie Benson, Adams and Sloggett all occupying the role, and although all have contributed, none have produced consistent performances.
Against Longford, it was Ward who started in the void, but he made little impact in a very disappointing first half when the team gave the ball away too often and lacked sharpness near goal.
Ward was eventually replaced by Adams who was much more direct and helped himself to his first goal with the club and Sloggett, who got the freedom to get forward, made the vital breakthrough with the first goal, adding a second from O'Kane's inviting delivery.
The Midlanders, to their credit, kept going until the end but the effort they put into the scoreless first half drained their energy and after the first goal, the floodgates opened which could have resulted in a better return in terms of goals for the home side.
Derry, with that array of former Dundalk talent in their ranks, will be a much different proposition, for they will come hunting for revenge for their defeat by the Lilywhites in the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium, but Dundalk won't surrender their unbeaten home record easily.