Oman gives rivals Sporting chance
A long season of short journeys in the League of Ireland Premier Division kicks off this evening with the marquee match fittingly bringing together two teams from Dublin.
The meeting of defending champions Bohemians and FAI Cup winners Sporting Fingal will receive the live television treatment, as domestic football enters a bizarre new dawn in the absence of Derry City and Cork City, with the Airtricity-sponsored top flight predominantly based around the capital.
In the Brandywell this evening, the new senior representatives of the troubled regional powers will clash, with Cork City FORAS, thrown together at the last minute, facing a difficult examination in their first ever game.
The future of football on the island is reliant on the protagonists in that encounter bouncing back from their setbacks but, for now, it's the fare on show at Dalymount this evening that the FAI will be looking to advertise in the shop window. Hopefully, a reasonable portion of the Dublin public will come along to watch.
It has the makings of an entertaining game. Bohs, who have added quality and quantity this winter after moving on some high earners, are deserved favourites to pick up a third successive title. Holding onto Pat Fenlon was the most significant coup of the off-season but, in time, the manager's captures of Mark Quigley, Aaron Greene and Raffaele Cretaro, to name just three, could be viewed in similar terms. The depth of options available to Fenlon is the envy of his peers.
Last year, the Gypsies looked threadbare when injuries struck and opened the door to a resurgent Shamrock Rovers side. They should be able to avoid such calamities in 2010, although the Hoops, rich from the experience of coming so close and boosted by some quality additions, can raise the bar a notch too. The rest look ill-equipped to last the course, but Fenlon's dressing-room refuse to say so publicly.
"Sporting Fingal have a good squad," said defender Ken Oman, who misses out tonight with a knee injury. "And you never know in this league, everyone is capable of beating everyone.
"I know the title race last year was enjoyable, and it's important for the league that Bohs and Rovers are up there again -- with Cork and Derry gone -- because of the excitement around those games. But you can't write off the other teams."
According to the bookies, Fingal are next in line to the big two, a remarkable situation for a newly promoted side to find themselves in. The irony of 2009 is that while they thrived in the cup, they underperformed in the First Division with a squad of Premier ability, eventually coming through the play-offs.
Like Bohs, they have bolstered their ranks in the winter, while other clubs have been scaling back or piecing squads together up until the last minute. Glen Crowe was an early capture and faces a rapid return to the club he is synonymous with.
"This is the stage where we want to be," said Fingal boss Liam Buckley yesterday. "Our aim during this first foray into the Premier Division is to consolidate."
With a forward department including the likes of Crowe, Gary O'Neill, Eamonn Zayed, Shane Barrett and Conan Byrne, you suspect they will be looking to do slightly better than that.
UCD, with a minuscule budget in comparison, came up as champions from the First Division and, with more or less the same squad, they have an opportunity to hit the ground running against Drogheda, who field a host of new faces at United Park.
St Pat's, who signed goalie Dan Connor yesterday, have the benefit of a Setanta Cup game under their belts ahead of Galway's visit to Richmond Park while Dundalk, who were particularly busy in the transfer market in February, venture to the Carlisle Grounds to face a Bray side who were planning for the First Division a fortnight ago. Eddie Gormley's charges may find it difficult this term, but at least they'll save a fortune on travel.