Clash of Dublin rivals to highlight opening night
The Dublin derby meeting of Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers is the pick of the opening night's fixtures for the 2018 League of Ireland Premier Division season.
They will clash at Dalymount Park in the season opener on Friday, February 16 with the top-flight campaign kicking off a week earlier as part of the switch to a 10-team-division and the increase in the number of fixtures from 33 to 36.
With capacity restricted at the old venue, a sell-out crowd is a certainty with Stephen Bradley's Hoops facing a tough start to their season as they follow it up with the visit of Dundalk to Tallaght.
Keith Long's Bohs side were a surprise package last term and will relish a competitive opener against their arch rivals.
With a summer break during the World Cup retained, and the league season still finishing on the last weekend of October, there will be four full midweek rounds of fixtures during the campaign.
And eight of the ten Premier Division sides will play a fifth midweek game in the early months of the season with the FAI leaving a weekend free in July for the four sides involved in European competition.
Defending champions Cork City kick off their title defence away to St Patrick's Athletic on February 16 with Premier Division newcomers Waterford playing host to Derry City.
Dundalk kick off their attempt to regain the crown by welcoming troubled Bray Wanderers to Oriel Park - the Seagulls have yet to appoint a new manager and only have a handful of players under contract.
One of those players, Keith Buckley, has openly said he wants to leave the club and hinted that the others feel the same due to the uncertainty hanging over their 2018 plans.
Limerick will start their campaign at home to Sligo Rovers on Saturday, February 17, a clash of two sides that successfully managed to stay afloat last term and avoid the dreaded drop to the second tier.
The new 10-team First Division starts a week later and will only have three rounds of fixtures - 27 games in total - because clubs feared the financial costs of midweek games.
Their regular season concludes on September 22 with the champions promoted, and the second-, third- and fourth-placed sides entering a play-off phase.
A two-legged meeting between the teams that finish third and fourth is followed by another two-legged encounter with the runners-up with the victors then emerging to lock horns with the ninth-placed Premier Division side over 180 minutes.
With the FAI Cup again weighted towards the second half of the season - and taking over full weekends - 22 of the 27 First Division games will be completed by the end of July.
Therefore, any team which exits the Blue Riband early will face a bare schedule in the concluding weeks of the campaign.
Dundalk and Cork will meet in the President's Cup on Sunday, February 11 to launch their year.
Their first league clash is in Oriel Park on March 9 with the other showdowns fixed for April 27 (Turner's Cross), June 29 (Oriel Park) and September 21 (Turner's Cross).
There will be fresh faces involved in those encounters with a number of the leading lights from their recent battles moving onto pastures new.
Both John Caulfield and Stephen Kenny are on the look-out for a striker with their top scorers from last term, Sean Maguire and Dave McMillan, now with Preston and St Johnstone respectively.
Dundalk have brought Patrick Hoban back to the club and added Ronan Murray from Galway but the imminent loss of Patrick McEleney will deprive them of another goalscoring threat.
With a shortage of available players that fit the bill within the league, managers are looking further afield but they may have to wait until the January window nears a close to attract players to Ireland.
Bohs have strengthened in that area by signing Ryan Swan - son of ex-Gypsies striker Derek - from Cabinteely.