North-west showdown the highlight of new season's opening salvo
Published 23/12/2015 | 02:30
The renewal of rivalries between north-west rivals Finn Harps and Derry City is the pick of the fixtures on the opening round of the 2016 SSE Airtricity Premier Division season.
Harps, who were promoted via a dramatic relegation play-off win over Limerick, will host Derry in what should be a money-spinning encounter in Finn Park on Friday, March 4.
Wexford Youths will make their Premier Division bow at home to Longford, while Cork welcome Bohemians to Turner's Cross and St Patrick's take on Galway in Inchicore.
Champions Dundalk will start their bid for a third straight title with a trip to Bray the following night, while Sligo Rovers new' boss Dave Robertson will start the serious work with the arrival of Shamrock Rovers in town.
With 12 teams in the Premier Division, and three rounds of fixtures, clubs are always anxious to find out if they have 16 or 17 home games across the campaign because of its impact on income in addition to the perceived football advantage.
Dundalk and likely challengers Shamrock Rovers are in the bracket of teams with 16 home games, whereas Cork and St Patrick's Athletic have 17. But Cork, Dundalk's chief pursuers in the last two years, will have to make two journeys to Oriel Park.
Premier Division clubs have recruited a barrister, Michael Cush, to represent them in the consultation process that is due to follow the Conroy Report. The independent report recommended a reduction of the top flight from 12 to 10 and that would have impacted on the 2016 season in terms of the mechanics of relegation. But, as it stands, no change in format is expected and the fixture list is structured for a repeat of 2015 with regard to promotion/relegation play-offs.
Meanwhile, Shamrock Rovers have re-signed Killian Brennan from St Patrick's Athletic.
It's a big call from Pat Fenlon given that the midfielder was unpopular with fans during a turbulent year in Tallaght in 2012. But Fenlon managed Brennan to back-to-back league titles at Bohemians and is a firm believer in his ability.
"I am delighted to get Killian," said Fenlon. "He is one of the best players in the league over the past few seasons. We fought off stiff competition from St Pat's to get his signature and I am delighted we have been able to secure it.
"Killian has probably played more games for me than for any other manager. I know what he can do and he knows what I expect from him."
Fenlon has also agreed a contract to keep French defender Maxine Blanchard in Tallaght.