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Official Review by Martin McNelis, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Dundalk FC were founded in 1903, nicknamed 'The Lilywhites' for their predominantly white kit. The club have been playing at Oriel Park since 1936. The town of Dundalk is located in the east of the country, in County Louth which is close to the border with Northern Ireland. The club’s nearest rivals are Drogheda United.
Oriel Park is an old fashioned stadium with a mixture of new and old features, with a capacity of 4,500. This includes a traditional Main Stand, a new covered enclosure opposite, standing areas behind both goals, and open area corner seating added at either side of the Main Stand.
Under an experienced manager in Stephen Kenny, the club have won the league title in 2014 and 2015. This has ensured qualification for the Champions League Qualifiers, elevating the club's profile, while providing extra income for the club, which in turn has enabled the club to make improvements both on and off the pitch.
The club have been playing on a synthetic surface since 2005 and were the first to do so in Ireland. This also allows the Dundalk teams of all ages to train on it along with local teams getting to use it; again enhancing income streams.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The refreshments options are very limited, with a couple of burger and ice cream type vans offering hot and cold drinks, burgers, and hot dogs. If that's not what you are after, then you will have to wait until after the game and treat yourself at a local shop or a take away/fast food outlet.
The majority, if not all clubs in the League of Ireland are part time, so the funds to improve specific areas like designated eating areas are limited. Bringing in third party companies and vans is convenient for them. That being the case, it may prove beneficial to bring in vans that offer more (dare I say) healthier options, for both hot and cold foods. I suppose from experience the people who run the vans will know what is popular, and know their market enough to make changes based on supply and demand.
The atmosphere at Oriel Park is excellent and the locals really embrace the team. Walking around town you will see people wearing the kits, badges, stickers and pennants hanging in shops, cars, and house windows. For bigger fixtures like European games or derby matches against Drogheda there are organised marches from the town centre to the stadium. With flags, banners, drums, singing and pyros it certainly adds to the atmosphere, more so if you are visiting.
Even throughout the game, the main area where the singing emanates from is the enclosure on the far side, which at certain points encourages others to join in and get involved.
The stadium entry is down a lane off Carrickmacross Road which takes you down to the Main Stand. This is the main hub for office use, dressing rooms, and club shop with the turnstiles on the left and right hand side. The away fans are situated on the right and will get limited use of both covered and open seating areas. Behind the left hand goal is a slightly sloped grass embankment for standing, which is known as 'the Town End' and it is a popular area for league matches. Behind the other goal at the Carrick Road end, there is limited standing space due to a large green net to catch stray balls, and that's due to there being nothing there apart from a narrow road and wasteland.
The Main Stand is quite small and does not run the full length of the pitch. It has had a roof replacement in the last decade and has open seating on either side and this is to increase capacity due to the UEFA restrictions for European ties. Opposite is 'The Shed' which is an old small terrace that has had seats fitted and a roof to cover it in recent years. It also has open seating on either side of it, which isn't ideal for the average winters day in Ireland.
The best view is from the Main Stand as it is elevated from the rest of the ground, providing the best vantage point to see the action, though there are a couple of supporting pillars, but doesn't impede your view too much.
The local people in the shops, pubs, and hotels, as well as club staff are very friendly and welcoming. They are often keen to ask why you are visiting and to tell you about Dundalk. The personal touch certainly adds to the experience and helps you embrace the town.
There are a number of take away places for chips, pizza, Chinese, and Indian food which are on the main road and are within walking distance from the train station, Oriel Park, and The Imperial Hotel. Some of the local pubs will do food until 9pm.
There are a few hotels in town, but the closest to the stadium and best value is at: The Imperial Hotel which is very friendly and comfortable, and only about a five minute walk from Oriel Park. A twin room costs 70 Euros which includes breakfast.
The fans are very passionate, creating noise and singing their heart out before, during and after the match.
Dundalk have one of the higher average attendances within the League of Ireland, with an average of 3,400 for home fixtures. The problem with higher profile games like a European tie, UEFA regulations mean the standing areas cannot be used which reduces the capacity.
One song that tends to get all supporters involved is the tune of 'When The Saints Go Marching In,' when one section starts with "Oh when the whites," and another replies "the Lilywhites," both then join in singing "go marching in, oh when the whites go marching in!"
Entrance to all of the stadium is next to the Main Stand and the approach is from turning left, just off Carrickmacross Road. The area is well stewarded and the queues at the turnstiles move quickly.
Oriel Park is ideally situated, a few minutes walk from the town centre, train station and is also on a regular bus route.
For anyone taking the car, parking is limited at the ground, but street parking is available. It is busy on approach and may be worthwhile taking one of the side streets before it, as this will allow you an easier exit too.
Tickets can only be bought directly from the club and the pricing is certainly fair enough. If you wish to sit in the Main Stand it is 20 Euros and 15 for a concession. For the rest of the areas within the ground it is 15 Euros for an adult, 10 Euros concession and 5 Euros for U12s.
There is limited movement once you are inside the stadium as each designated area is monitored by stewards. I am assuming this is to prevent people paying the lower admission price from getting into the Main Stand.
Overall, Oriel Park offers a good return on your investment for sporting entertainment.
With the hotel location in close proximity to the train station, stadium, pubs and food outlets, this is possibly one of the best venues you can get.
With the price of juveniles being 5 Euros, it is exceptional value if any adult wished to take along their kids.
The club shop offers the current kit and there are special deals on polo shirts, a book on the previous season's title win and some stationery. The match programme is also well produced and good value at 4 Euros.
There are not many grounds or stadiums that will have a relaxed, friendly atmosphere with all you need merely minutes away as Oriel Park. The town is easily accessible by train or bus travelling from Dublin in the south or from Belfast in the north.
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21 Park St
Dundalk, County Louth
+353 83 114 8983
63 Park St
Dundalk, County Louth
+353 42 935 1465
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