The last five seasons have constituted a glorious period in the history for Dundalk FC: consistent, no-nonsense performances and clean, precise, sustainable and sensible tactics.
I refer not to Dundalk’s wonderfully bravura four league titles in five years, but to the Lilywhites’ excellent use of squad numbers. In a crazy world of number 68s, it can be a source of pride to Dundalk fans that the club have consistently assigned squad numbers in a sensible manner. We shall examine their evoution, year on year.
The 2014 season delivered a first league title in 19 years, and it was a good year for squad numbers with Dundalk generally lining up with eight of the 1-11 numbers, this being the most regular 11: 1 Peter Cherrie, 2 Sean Gannon, 3 Brian Gartland, 4 Andy Boyle, 5 Chris Shields, 7 Daryl Horgan, 9 Patrick Hoban, 11 Kurtis Byrne and 14 Dane Massey, 17 Richie Towell, 21 Darren Meenan.
We can forgive central defender Brian Gartland occupying the traditional left-back’s number 3. The missing low numbers were owned by perma-injured club captain Stephen O’Donnell (number 6, 9+3 appearances), who ceded his place to 5 Chris Shields. Number 8 was regular midfield sub John Mountney (7+14) and 10 was worn by the unfortunate midfielder Keith Ward, who was seriously injured early in the season (1 sub appearance).
Darren Meenan’s 21 was the highest number to make a league appearance all season, with the only other shirt numbers used in the league being 12 Ruadhri Higgins (MF, 6+17), 15 Mark Griffin (ST, 0+10), 16 David McMillan (ST, 3+21), 18 Mark Rossiter (DF, 4+2) and 20 Donal McDermott (MF, 0+11).
2015 (league and FAI Cup winners)
Another fine season for Dundalk, with the league and cup double and a fine season of squad numbering, with just Massey, Towell and Meenan regularly going beyond 1-11.
1 Gary Rogers, 2 Sean Gannon, 3 Brian Gartland, 4 Andy Boyle, 5 Chris Shields/6 Stephen O’Donnell, 7 Daryl Horgan, 9 David McMillan, 10 Ronan Finn, and 14 Dane Massey, 17 Richie Towell, 21 Darren Meenan.
The major changes were Gary Rogers taking over the gloves and the number 1 jersey from Peter Cherrie, David McMillan vacating 16 to take departing Patrick Hoban’s number 9 and the incoming Ronan Finn replacing Keith Ward at 10.
Remarkably, all numbers 1-11, plus 14 and 21, made at least 24 appearances during the season. Regular sub midfielder John Mountey wore 8 in all 33 league games (13+20). The highest number used all season was 24. Other appearances were as follows: 11 Kurtis Byrne (AM, 0+14), 12 Shane Grimes (LB, 1+4), 15 Paddy Barrett (CD, 6+5), 16 Ciaran Kilduff (ST, 4+8), 19 Jake Kelly (MF, 0+9) then 19 Sean Maguire (ST, 1+5), 22 Gabriel Sava (GK, 2+1) and 24 Georgie Poynton (MF 0+2).
This was a vintage year for Dundalk in terms of classic kit numbers, reflecting their annus mirabilis in the league. Eleven of the 12 most regular starters were numbered 1-11, with Dane Massey wearing 14. Sadly Dundalk never quite managed a full, glorious 1-11 line-up on the pitch at any one time.
1 Gary Rogers, 2 Sean Gannon, 3 Brian Gartland, 4 Andy Boyle, 5 Chris Shields/6 Stephen O’Donnell, 7 Daryl Horgan, 8 John Mountney/11 Patrick McEleney, 9 David McMillan, 10 Ronan Finn, and 14 Dane Massey.
New midfielder Patrick McEleney wore 11 and was a regular contributor (17+6) so all shirt numbers 1-11 (plus 14, 18 and 21) featured in at least 23 of 33 league games.
With Europa League commitments and a hectic schedule towards the end of the season, manager Stephen Kenny used his extended squad more than usual, with shirt numbers as high as 31 used. Other league appearances were as follows: 12 Shane Grimes (LB, 3+1), 15 Paddy Barrett (CD, 9+7), 16 Ciaran Kilduff (ST, 9+11), 17 Georgie Poynton (MF 1+3), 18 Robbie Benson (MF, 12+12), 19 Dean Shiels (AM, 2+7), 20 Ciaran O’Connor (ST, 1+4), 21 Darren Meenan (AM, 10+14), 22 Gabriel Sava (GK, 4), 24 Alan Keane (RB, 5), 26 Michael O’Connor (AM, 1+2), 28 Carlton Ubaezuono (DF, 0+1) and 31 Keith Dalton (DF, 1).
2017 (league runners-up) and 2018 (league and cup winners)
Subsequent seasons saw a bit more fluidity in Dundalk’s squad, but the sensible squad numbers policy remained in place.
For 2017, Michael Duffy was a like-for-like replacement for Daryl Horgan at number 7 and Jamie McGrath for Ronan Finn at 10. There has been an interesting trend for the ‘promotion’ of players vis-à-vis squad numbers. David McMillan moved from 16 to 9 when Patrick Hoban headed across the water after the 2014 season (pleasingly the returning Hoban slipped back into 9 for 2018 after McMillan went to St Johnstone).
New central defender Paddy Barrett graduated from 15 in 2015 and 2016 to 4 in 2017 after the departure of Andy Boyle and, when Barrett moved on in 2017, Sean Hoare was promoted from the same 15 to 4 for 2018. The number 15 was once again occupied by an incoming central defender, Stephen Folan, in 2018. Folan’s preference for squad number 57 at Galway and Sligo was not indulged at Dundalk.
Dylan Connolly briefly wore 23 on signing in the summer of 2017 but moved to his old Bray Wanderers squad number 16 a few weeks later when incumbent Ciarán Kilduff left for the US (the League of Ireland allows mid-season switches).
It’s a little harder to tie down a ‘regular’ starting XI for Dundalk in 2017 than in previous seasons. As well as the 11 selected above, there were a significant number of appearances for central defenders number 4 Paddy Barrett (14+1) and 15 Sean Hoare (16+1), midfielders 6 Stephen O’Donnell (11+9), 8 John Mountney (9+7) and 21 Conor Clifford (10+5), and strikers 16 Ciaran Kilduff (6+14) and 26 Thomas Stewart (7+16).
Other league appearances were as follows: 12 Shane Grimes (LB, 4+1), 16 Dylan Connolly (RM, 7+2), 22 Gabriel Sava (GK, 4), 23 Jake O’Connor (MF, 2+1), 24 Steven Kinsella (MF, 1+8), 25 Carlton Ubaezuono (DF, 2+1) and 29 Jack O’Keefe (0+1).
The 2018 season saw Dean Jarvis sport the unusually high number 33 at Dundalk, a number he opted for as the 3 he wore for several seasons at Derry City was unavailable, while new arrival Georgie Kelly wore the inexplicable 45.
The 2018 most common players line-up is somewhat misleading. Dundalk always played with a back four but five players shared the defensive duties almost equally. The right midfield role was shared by the next most regular starter, 16 Dylan Connolly (17+11) and 8 John Mountney (10+8).
The 11 jersey made 27 appearances on the back of loanee Krisztian Adorjan (5+11) and the returning Patrick McEleney (8+2, as well as one sub appearance wearing 35, having re-signed before Adorjan left) and attacking midfielder-cum-auxiliary forward Ronan Murray sported 19 no fewer than 23 times (11+12).
Other league appearances were as follows: 6 Stephen O’Donnell (DM, 4+6), 12 Sam Byrne (ST, 0+2), 13 Karolis Chvedukas (MF, 2+5), 15 Stephen Folan (CD, 8+1), 17 Georgie Poynton (MF, 1+3), 23 Dean Jarvis (LB/MF, 11+8) and 45 Georgie Kelly (0+7).
With Byrne departed, Kelly has taken over 12 for the 2019 season. O’Donnell has retired, with the number 6 shirt now worn by new signing Jordan Flores while another addition, Seán Murray, has taken 16, freed up when Connolly left.