During the off-season, League of Ireland champions Dundalk captured the signature of highly rated Bohemians and Ireland U21 full-back Darragh Leahy on a two-year-deal.
Leahy had impressed last season as part of a young and hungry Bohs side who finished third in the table, while becoming Stephen Kenny’s first choice left-back at U21 level.
It’s been a brilliant rise for the 21-year-old since breaking into the Dublin side’s first team two seasons ago, following his return from English side Coventry City, but now he faces another test after joining Vinnie Perth and Dundalk as the Lilywhites look to retain their league title.
“The build-up to the season is going really well,” Leahy told Pundit Arena on Wednesday.
“We obviously had the training camp over in Spain and played two really good teams in Cluj and CSKA which were good contests. We played a couple of games at home, had one last night and then the President’s Cup on Sunday so looking forward to the new season.”
Dundalk will once again head into the season as favourites for the title, but will face stiff competition from a Shamrock Rovers side who, having added a number of new faces, will be itching to knock the champions off their perch.
Perth’s side though have also welcomed new additions to their side, with the likes of Cameron Smith arriving from Dundee United on loan and former Manchester City prospect Will Patching also coming in as well as the signing of Greg Sloggett from UCD.
Leahy outlined that he has settled in well at the club so far and feels that all the new boys are beginning to gel and find their feet ahead of the new campaign.
“I’m settling in really well. The lads made me feel really welcome. There’s been three other signings as well, Cammy Smith came in the other day so it feels as though we are gelling really well.
“The week over in Spain was great for team bonding. After the week it felt like you were in Dundalk for two or three months!”
Leahy, like the majority of players in the league, is itching to return to action following the off-season however having missed the last few games of the previous campaign through injury, the 21-year-old is even hungrier than most.
“It was a tough blow,” he said of his injury.
“I’ve been out since September and I missed four U21 games so, the two at the end of March hopefully I’ll be back for and then there’s one in October. There’s only three games left so I’m really hoping to get back for them.”
Having been such an integral part of the U21s’ European qualifying campaign, it was a blow for Leahy to miss such crucial games in the group.
He had featured in every single game of the Kenny era before his injury and spoke about how the former Dundalk manager’s style of play has been brilliant to be a part of.
“I’ve absolutely loved working under Stephen (Kenny). I think that’s why it was so easy to go to Dundalk because he and Vinny (Perth) have such similar styles.
“It’s been brilliant, he gives you so much confidence and the style of play is really exciting to be involved with and to watch.”
Ireland’s U21s currently sit top of their group in qualifying after two brilliant wins against Sweden and Armenia as they look to reach the European Championships at that level for the first time ever.
There is a real sense that Kenny’s kids are a special group of players with the likes of Jayson Molumby, Adam Idah and Troy Parrott all excelling at club level, in addition to the always-excellent Leahy.
Irish fans have gotten behind the side in their thousands since Kenny’s appointment but does Leahy feel the squad believe the hype surrounding them?
Confidence and self-belief, he explains, are key.
“You have to have belief in yourself as a side. It’s not arrogance it’s just self-belief. You have to have it. It’s a 1998 group but there’s still a lot of lads in the side who are (born in) 1999, 2000, 2001.
“We are really close in the group and we’ve done so well so far, hopefully, we can kick on and finish it off.”
Leahy and Dundalk begin the defence of their title against Derry next Friday but before that, they must face Rovers in Sunday’s President’s Cup.