Gannon focused on new Dundalk chapter
The high point of Dundalk's pre-season trip to Spain was an outing to the Nou Camp to watch Barcelona's stars stroll past Athletic Bilbao.
"We were just seeing what the dressing room was like and things like that," laughs Sean Gannon, when he is asked if it was actually a Champions League scouting mission.
Dundalk's players didn't get that close unfortunately. It was quite literally a high point as their tickets were located up in the clouds at the back of the Nou Camp watching from a distant vantage point as Lionel Messi orchestrated a win over Bilbao. It was still a thrill for Gannon, a break before Stephen Kenny's team knuckle down to begin a new campaign.
Over Christmas, the Dubliner was still receiving congratulations from people in his locality about the remarkable European run that captured imaginations in 2016. But the simple reality is that the Lilywhites have to park that now and focus on the road again.
That season is history now and Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle and Ronan Finn have departed. Kenny has brought in six new faces - Sean Hoare, Niclas Vemmelund, Michael Duffy, Conor Clifford, Jamie McGrath and Steven Kinsella - the biggest change Gannon has encountered in his time in Louth.
The challenge now is to refocus and search for a fourth consecutive league title. Gannon expects a tougher fight as he feels Shamrock Rovers - their first opponents on February 24 - will join Cork in giving them a run for their money.
That Rovers date will take place on the new Oriel Park artificial pitch, a change that the right-back welcomes. He thinks that it will help their style of play, but knows that outside observers will be wondering how they cope without Horgan, Boyle and Finn.
"When you lose players then questions will be asked of you," says the full-back. "Ever since we've won the league the same question has been asked of us: 'Are we hungry enough to do it again?' But I think that's the mentality in the dressing room and in the club.
"Stephen has shown in the past that he can recruit very well and players have come to the fore and hopefully that happens again. He signs lads that are hungry to do well."
The longer-serving members of the group have the opportunity to win a fourth consecutive title on the trot, a historic achievement that would equal the Shamrock Rovers' record of the 1980s although Gannon asserts they are looking to make their own history rather than measure it against anybody else's.
Kenny has already stated that he wants to launch another crack at Europe too, so Gannon politely dismisses the suggestion that the squad revamp might lower expectations come the summer.
"We're setting our standards in terms of what we did last year - we want to do it again," he said. "The players that Stephen's brought in don't want to be seen as coming into a period of transition. What we did last year was probably an incentive for them to come."
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