With the start of the Airtricity League season just over a week away, one of the biggest storylines ahead of the new campaign surrounds the defending champions Dundalk.
Over the break, the Lilywhites lost their talismanic manager Stephen Kenny, who had masterminded four league titles in the last five seasons, including two doubles as well as an unprecedented European run, to the FAI.
With John Gill and Vinnie Perth taking over, the question turns to whether or not Dundalk will be able to emulate their previous successes in Kenny’s absence.
One man who will be key to their attempts at retaining their title is last season’s PFAI Player of the Year Michael Duffy.
The 24-year old feels that although the absence of the now Irish U21s boss will take a bit of getting used to, the arrival of Gill and subsequent promotion of Perth from assistant to head coach has been brilliant for the club.
“Coming back from the break with him not there was a bit strange,” Duffy told Pundit Arena.
“It is a bit weird but it’s been brilliant so far everyone’s enjoying it a lot and Vinnie and John (Gill) have been brilliant and all the coaching staff have been brilliant so far.
“We’ve always been a tight group and we’re keeping the same style with Vinnie and Higgins and John Gill has obviously come in too so it’s been really good for us.”
Speaking to Pundit Arena a number of months ago, John Gill outlined that he and everyone at the club are keen to show that despite Kenny’s success, Dundalk’s rise was more than just a one-man show.
Duffy agrees and feels that everyone at the Oriel Park has a ‘point to prove’ ahead of the new season.
“I would agree, I think Stephen obviously his success at Dundalk was unbelievable and what he’s done with the club, in general, was amazing.
“A lot of people might be thinking ‘Kenny is gone, here’s everyone’s chance to get at Dundalk’ and they’re going to come out this season to try and stop us but that’s good for us at the club if we believe that.
“We know have a point to prove to see if we can keep building on the way it’s been in the past few years.”
Last campaign Duffy was the division’s stand out player, scoring 13 goals as Dundalk wrestled the league title away from Cork City’s grasp.
But ahead of the new season does the midfielder feel he can improve on last year’s exploits?
“On a personal level, I’ll just be looking to top what I did last year and try and do what I did last season if not better and try to get more goals and assists.
“Last season was a year I’ll never forget it was my first time winning the league and obviously winning the FAI cup as well it was massive for me.”
“That’s why I came to Dundalk to win trophies. This year I’ll be looking for the same.”