Hoops to heat up title race but Dundalk set to prevail again

Bohs Dan Casey

Aidan Fitzmaurice

By beating Dundalk on penalties in the FAI Cup final last year, Shamrock Rovers bridged a 32-year gap and took hold of the trophy for the first time in three decades.

It's bridging the gap in terms of points which is, once again, the big challenge for the Hoops as they look to get closer to the top of the table.

The gap has been there for a long time now, festering away if you are a Rovers supporter, conforting for the Dundalk camp. Rovers finished 13 points behind Dundalk in 2015 and since then the points difference between them has been 22, 15, 22, 25 and (last year) 11.

So Rovers have got close, but it's hard to see them being 12 points better than Dundalk last season.

Points dropped against Bohs last term cost Rovers and Shelbourne's return adds another point-sapping derby to the mix.

Both Dundalk and Rovers have been quiet transfer-wise and more signings before the window closes could be important, but with Dundalk now settled and Rovers still searching for a Gary Twigg-like striker, it should be Dundalk's year again.

What else can we expect in 2020?

Derry City and Bohemians performed above expectations last season, qualifying for Europe. They have both spoken about pushing on this season and closing the gap on the top two, but Bohs had a 15-point gap between themselves and Rovers last season, a lot of ground to make up.

Bohs have recruited well, and while they badly missed Dinny Corcoran last term, they have more cover up front this season now that Andre Wright has settled into the league, while Glen McAuley, underwhelming in his time at St Pat's, could have the fire in his belly.


New signings Dan Casey and JJ Lunney also know the club, always a help for their return, though the loss of full backs Darragh Leahy and Derek Pender will be felt.

Derry will miss departed souls like Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, David Parkhouse and Greg Sloggett but the two Conors (Clifford and McCormack) could use the Brandywell to spark their own careers while Derry's exotic imports could also do well.

The recruitment policy at St Pat's led them to sign either established players from the league (Conor Kearns, Robbie Benson) or little-known UK imports.

Eyebrows were raised among their support at players being signed from the English non-league scene and the Scottish third tier, wondering if they can impress in the top flight here, but Stephen O'Donnell has good contacts in the game and his eye for a player will be trusted.

Rivals have signed talent from abroad but Shelbourne have looked to within the league to fill out their squad for the 2020 season and will rely a lot on the experience of league-winning players like Karl Sheppard and Gary Deegan, but there's enough there at Tolka Park to suggest a season of stability.

Mid-table would be a success for Shels and Sligo Rovers would hope to improve on last season's seventh-place finish but it could be a tough season for Cork City, Waterford and Finn Harps.

Cork have dismantled their squad and while some signings are intriguing (Dylan McGlade, Conor Davis), inexperience is a concern as budget cuts bite at Turner's Cross, no UEFA money for City again this year. Waterford have lost an entire team over the close season and will struggle, while Finn Harps, despite the impressive capture of Barry McNamee, will also find life difficult.


Premier Division: Dundalk (Shamrock Rovers 2nd)

FAI Cup: Derry City (Dundalk 2nd)

League Cup: Dundalk (Shamock Rovers 2nd)

Relegated: Finn Harps

First Division: Drogheda United

Top scorer: Pat Hoban (Dundalk)