Duleek hungry to reclaim title lost in boardroom
ONLY four weeks after the destiny of last season's Premier Division title was decided it's kick-off time again for the Meath & District League.
And there must be a unanimous hope among clubs and the MDL committee that there will be no repeat of the long-running saga that single-handedly ruined the battle for top-flight honours last time.
What had been an exciting three-horse race between Rock Celtic, Duleek and Woodview Celtic was thrown into disarray when Duleek fielded an ineligible player in a crucial match against Rock which the Meath side won 1-0.
The League's decision to deduct the points from Duleek was appealed unsuccessfully to the Leinster FA, but with the option of a further appeal to the FAI it was only towards the end of July that Rock Celtic could be declared as the champions.
The whole episode was deeply unsatisfactory, but it's all in the past now, in the meantime the batteries have been recharged and there's a renewed hunger among the leading clubs to have another crack.
From Rock's point of view they will want to show that they were worthy title winners last time and the best way to do that would be to make a successful defence of the crown.
Mindful of being labelled an ageing team, manager Shane Reddish has bolstered his squad with a number of former Dundalk youth team players, including two centre-halves, and they possess a strength in depth that will make them hard to beat.
Tony Grant's Duleek, for their part, still feel last season's league trophy should have gone to the Tollstone and their appetite to mount another strong challenge - and successfully defend the Challenge Cup - is undiminished.
The big question mark concerns the departure of Barry Kavanagh to rejoin last year's joint manager Dave Rogers at Ballymun. The boots of the MDL Player of the Season 2012/13 will be hard to fill, and much will depend on whether their Brazilian junior international, named Junior, can make the same impact as he did during a previous spell with Duleek.
Having won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012, last season was disappointing by Woodview's standards, but according to manager Gavin McKeever they'll be redoubling their efforts to regain the league crown.
Stephen Fisher and Johnny Lynch are good captures from Quay Celtic -although a number of Quay players have gone in the opposite direction - and the word from inside the camp is that training has been stepped up significantly.
It's difficult to see any of the other clubs in the Premier Division making the breakthrough into the top three. Navan Cosmos, who did go close last time after winning Division 1 the previous year, could suffer the dreaded 'second season syndrome', and of the remaining Louth clubs Quay Celtic might be best placed to improve on 12 months ago.
Barry Kieran, who has steered the reserve team to back-to-back titles in the past two years, has bolstered his squad significantly and feels a top-five finish is a realistic goal.
Bellurgan United produced a strong finish last season which saw them pull clear of the relegation zone, but must rely on the same squad - minus Barry McKenna - so while they are targeting a mid-table finish they will do well to avoid another battle against the drop.
Two of the unknowns are promoted clubs Muirhevnamor and Boyne Harps who have come up in place of Dromin United and Carrick, but the Dundalk outfit's boss Sean Dixon insists his charges can step up to the plate. Indeed, he even feels he can interrupt the dominance of the main contenders and break into the top three. He has certainly strengthened the Muirhevnamor squad significantly, and the addition of a reserve team for the first time is also a positive step.
Harps, too, have beefed up their squad considerably, although for the time being at least they haven't been able to replace their highly-rated goalkeeper Bryan Smith and their Newtown Blues contingent won't be available until after their Louth Senior Championship campaign is over.
Manager Oliver Smith has been joined at the helm by the vastly experienced Pat 'Mini' Mohan after they held talks on Friday night.
The top flight is completed by Meath trio Trim Celtic, OMP United and Longwood-Knightsbrook, the latter having come up from Division 1 after winning a play-off against Kentstown Rovers.
In terms of the Tully Bookmakers Challenge Cup, the battle for that piece of silverware could be a much more open contest.
Kingscourt Harps of Division 2 went all the way to the final last season and if the likely top three get too bogged down in their battle for league honours it could open the door to the likes of Quay, Bellurgan, Muirhevnamor and Boyne Harps to collect some silverware come next May.