As Dundalk fixtures build-up, Balls looks at the month ahead for the Louth club.
Little under a months time, the Lillywhites will walk onto the Aviva's pristine surface with legs aching from a grueling fixture list. Stephen Kenny's men will barely have touched down in Dublin Airport following their away trip to Russia before preparing to compete against Cork for the last bit of domestic silverware of the season. While nobody can deny the talent which features in Dundalk's squad, it is an absolutely monumental task that lies ahead of them regardless.
October 8th - Sligo Rovers (H)
October 11th - Cork City (H)
October 14th - Shamrock Rovers (A)
October 17th - Longford Town (A)
October 20th - Zenit St. Petersburg (H)
October 23rd - Bohs (H)
October 25th - St Pat's (A)
October 28th - Galway (H)
November 3rd - Zenit St. Petersburg (A)
November 6th - Cork City (FAI Cup final)
November 24th - AZ Alkmaar (H)
December 8th - Maccabi Tel Aviv (A)
Dundalk begin their taxing journey at home to Sligo and Cork respectively. The latter game will play a huge role in the title picture as the Leesiders are just four points off the leaders in the title race. Three days later they make the journey to their second home, Tallaght Stadium, where they have remained unbeaten against Shamrock Rovers since 2013.
The following week will result in Dundalk travelling to the midlands to face a struggling Longford outfit before playing Zenit on Irish soil that Thursday, then welcoming Bohemians to Oriel Park at the end of the week. The remaining fixtures continue in similar fashion the following week against St.Pats and Galway.
Dundalk's Sean Gannon spoke to 98fm's League of Ireland podcast about preparing for the fixtures ahead;
It's a quick turnaround with games now. The workload on recovery days has not been as much as it has been. Basically, we just have to keep ourselves right and get in the best possible shape for the next game.
We just have to get on with it [the fixture list]...Not that we're used to it, it's still tough enough but I wouldn't swap it to be honest. I don't think any of the lads would. Obviously we've had to push games back with Europe it is what it is. We just had to make sure we're ready for all the games and be in the best possible shape we can be.
There's a lot of tough games coming up and we know we'll have to be on our A game to get the points. We don't think about the fixture buildup to be honest. We just look at the next game and prepare to win it.
While Gannon believes in following routine, November will bring real headaches for Stephen Kenny and co. Dundalk will make the 7,000km round-trip to St.Petersburg. Geographical challenge aside, Zenit are a genuinely top-class side, having only lost once in their past 13 European home fixtures - (P13 W10 D2 L1) - so to expect Dundalk to go against the grain would be asking a lot.
English clubs have won 40% of their games after playing in either Russia/Ukraine before a domestic fixture. Italian and Spanish teams don't fare even less well, winning just a quarter of their games upon return. The facts don't bode well for Dundalk before the cup final fixture. However, they won't be too fazed by statistics as they've done it time-and-time again when the odds have been stacked against them in Europe this season.
This year has provided Dundalk supporters with memories they'll take to their graves. So far Kenny's team have displayed very few signs of fatigue. If Dundalk adequately prepare for each game, then this will be the season that will be talked about for generations to come in the town. The remaining fixtures will have a huge impact on the future of the club.