Stephen Maher is hoping to rediscover the form that had Dundalk fighting at the opposite end of the Premier Division table just two years ago, after the central midfielder recently returned to the club to aid their battle against relegation.
The 24-year-old was a key figure in the Lilywhites’ rise to the top of the League of Ireland for the first time in 15 years under Ian Foster in 2010, before a long injury nightmare began that July.
Having played 30 of the first 32 games after signing in February, Maher started just six of the 45 over the following 11 months as he struggled with osteitis pubis.
Then, having finally recovered, he suffered a fractured fifth metatarsal while enjoying his fifth start in six games at home to Bray Wanderers on 19 August last year, before switching to Monaghan United for the new season.
Now, having battled back to full fitness, Maher is keen to once more find the form that had led to outside interest in his services and help Dundalk away from the bottom.
The Dubliner returned to action with a fine performance in the cruel 3-2 defeat at Drogheda United last weekend.
But he insists he can do “a whole lot more” as he prepares for his first competitive outing at Oriel Park in 13 months in a vital clash with closest rivals UCD this Friday night.
With the Lilywhites currently four points adrift, Maher knows the importance of the game and he is hopeful that they can put a run of form together and climb back above the Students.
Writing in the DFC Magazine for the game, he said: “While I’m happy with my fitness, I can still get a lot sharper and hopefully I can get back to the way I was playing the first time around with Dundalk.
“I made my first appearance back for the club against Drogheda United on Friday. On my own performance, I didn’t do too badly but I didn’t do too much.
“From going on what I was used to doing a couple of years ago, I could do a whole lot more. I need to step it up in the coming weeks with only a few games left, and hopefully that can help us to a couple of victories.
“To put so much effort in and then to lose the game from a couple of mistakes was very difficult to take.
“It was bitterly disappointing but there were some great positives to take from it and hopefully we can make amends in the coming weeks and get some big results.
“Everyone has to step up to the plate now and make sure we get results. We’re going to have to make (the UCD game) like a cup final and hopefully get the three points.
“We have to put a run of form together now to avoid the playoff. Nobody wants that. The worst thing you can have on your CV is relegation.
“I’ll be certainly doing everything I can and hopefully everyone will be pulling together to get us out of the mess that we’re in. It’s going to be really difficult but anything is possible.
“In this league, anyone can beat anyone, so we have just got to roll our sleeves up and put in performances like we did on Friday and cut out the mistakes.
“If we do that, we will win games. It’s easier said than done but we have got to remain positive and do the best we can.”