Dundalk striker Ciaran Kilduff. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

Kilduff: There’s more to come this season!

There’s pre-season training, and then there’s pre-season training with Dundalk!

Stephen Kenny’s side are not only the best team in the country but they are also the fittest, mainly due to the methods and input of Strength and Conditioning Coach, Graham Byrne.

New players have often remarked that it can take some time to get used to the intensity of Dundalk’s training sessions and that theory was backed up by striker Ciaran Kilduff when he spoke to The Dundalk Democrat on Saturday morning.

Kilduff signed for Dundalk last summer but he is two weeks into his first pre-season with the club, a pre-season that he describes as the hardest he has been through in his nine years as a League of Ireland player.

“Graham’s work is very thorough and intense and it’s a massive step up. The level of conditioning here is really good, even the staff we have in terms of physios and things like that are excellent.

“It’s hard to get through the sessions and we have a lot of them back to back. We’ve a double session in DCU on Sunday and it’s pretty intense. Pre-season can be a bit of a shock to the system anyway but this is the hardest I’ve been through so far.”

The hard work will continue for another week at least before the respite of pre-season friendlies begins next Tuesday when Cliftonville visit Oriel Park — although a slight knock may see Kilduff sit that one out.

“I picked up a little niggle and I’ll have to get it monitored but the boys are flying fit and looking forward to the first pre-season game. You can’t get match fit without the games so we’re all looking forward to those coming around,” he said.

Looking at the bigger picture, Kilduff knows that the punishing work being put in now will stand to him down the line. He made a major contribution last year, scoring five times en route to the double, but with a full pre-season under his belt, he feels there is even more to come this season.

“I need to have a big year myself and I’m expecting a lot. I’ve never had a problem scoring goals in this league but I need a consistent run of games and a full season with a team,” he said.

“I’m very settled here which is probably something I didn’t have for a while and I’m hoping that will result in me playing my best football.

“At the end of last season I was chipping in with goals which is nice but to replicate that over a full season would be great. I’m playing in a team that is free flowing and likes to attack so I’m sure there will be goals there for me.”

Dundalk fans will certainly be hoping that is the case. With last year’s top scorer, Richie Towell, moving to Brighton, Kilduff knows that there is a bit of pressure on him and the rest of the strikers to hit double figures in 2016.

“The goals will have to come from somewhere and I think they will,” he stated.

“Myself and David McMillan have spoken about it a few times already. Dave was brilliant last year but I know he wasn’t overly happy with his haul of goals from and he wants more this season.

“From my own point of view, I finished with five goals which was good for me because I was in and out of the team but I obviously want to get a lot more.

“People were probably asking the same thing this time last year when Pat Hoban left Dundalk but I feel we’ll create plenty of chances, especially with the likes of Patrick McEleney and Robbie Benson on board.”

Towell may have departed but the addition of McEleney and Benson means that Dundalk look just as formidable now as they did last time out.

Kenny’s side made history by becoming the first Dundalk team to ever retain the title last year and they will surely be remembered as the greatest to have ever graced Oriel Park if they can make it three-in-a-row. Kilduff, though, said that would be easier said than done.

“I think we’re an ever bigger scalp for teams than we would have been last year because everybody will really want to stop us and beat us this season.

“I know from when I was at Shamrock Rovers going for three league titles in a row that you have a massive target on your back. Teams want to take a point of you and I’m sure there’ll be plenty who will come to Oriel to try and frustrate us. There’s ways around that, however, and I’m sure the gaffer will have us prepared for anything.”

Success at home may be important, but there is a sense that progress on the continent may be an even bigger priority for Dundalk this season.

Kilduff was part of the Shamrock Rovers squad that broke into the Europa League group stages in 2011 and he feels that this group of players have the capabilities to follow suit.

“Europe is something we all have one eye on. We all want to be part of big European nights. I was at Rovers during the Europa League campaign and it was an amazing experience playing in some of those games.

“I think that’s the next step for Dundalk,” he continued. “The club is after rising from the ashes to go on and defend the league title and win the double. The next progressive step is making a run in Europe.

“Obviously a lot will depend on lady luck but if we got a decent draw and things go your way then it is possible to break into the group stages of the Europa League.”