Saturday 23 March 2019

Daniel McDonnell: 'Saints to the fore as Dub clubs hint at resurgence'

Mikey Drennan of St Patrick's Athletic, left, celebrates with team-mates after scoring the his side's goal. Photo: Sportsfile
Mikey Drennan of St Patrick's Athletic, left, celebrates with team-mates after scoring the his side's goal. Photo: Sportsfile
New boss Harry Kenny. Photo by Michael Ryan/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Sharing a city with a standard setting GAA operation and a successful Leinster team is a challenge for the League of Ireland's Dublin clubs.

There are still plenty of customers to go around if they get their house in order, and perhaps this will be the year when that happens.

Dublin's three established Premier outfits all tasted victory on Friday, but the buzz was about much more than the results. Instead, it was the pictures of packed stands at Dalymount Park and Richmond Park as Bohemians and St Patrick's Athletic scored single-goal wins over Finn Harps and Cork City respectively.

The Shamrock Rovers team that nabbed a last-minute winner in Waterford will be hoping for similiar footfall around Friday's visit of Derry City. This day week, the Hoops are in Dalymount for a Dublin derby with Bohs that is already sold out.

UCD's promotion this term means that 40pc of the Premier Division is made up of capital-based clubs. But the past five campaigns have been a story of Dundalk and Cork dominance. When games with significance to the destination of the title have taken place in Dublin, the interest has surrounded the away team

That's why the most significant result of the first round of fixtures may prove to be the Saints' victory over an underwhelming Cork side in a heaving Richmond Park.

As it happens, the Saints are the last Dublin club to have lifted either the Premier Division title (2013) or the FAI Cup (2014).

Yet their need for regeneration is arguably greater than that of Rovers and Bohs.

The latter have got their act together in terms of community work and have the imminent refurbishment of Dalymount Park to look forward to.

Rovers have an established base in Tallaght and an academy structure with a longer term focus. They really need to put together a title challenge this year, but their potential is obvious and it's hard to envisage a strong league without their presence.

And, similar to Bohs (and soon-to-be co-tenants Shelbourne) they have the local council as landlords, which offers a degree of security.

With the Saints, it's a little bit more complicated. They launched ambitious stadium plans last year, but the 'Richmond Arena' idea did not receive sufficient levels of political support to get off the ground.

Efforts were already underway to restore the club's place in local hearts, and the stadium debate really emphasised the importance of that. There were close to 3,500 spectators at the opening win over Cork, way above their average in trophy-winning years.

They remain reliant on the support of Garrett Kelleher, who has given new boss Harry Kenny backing to put a squad together that can push the club back towards Europe.

A combination of the personnel changes and the increased engagement with the area appears to have captured the imagination. The challenge now is build on it; nobody in this league should get too carried with opening night crowds.

Popular players help and the return of Chris Forrester from Aberdeen caused a stir. The 26-year-old actually struggled on Friday, with Kenny admitting he was sluggish.

"I was a bit surprised that he was playing Scottish Premiership and not too clever fitness-wise," said Kenny.

There is no doubt that the midfielder will improve, with all at Inchicore conscious that two family bereavements were a key factor in Forrester's decision to come back.

They will be patient with him, but there are increased expectations about what this group can achieve. Kenny has tried to temper that, pointing to a high volume of new faces.

Still, Dundalk's opening draw with Sligo Rovers and injuries that will keep Robbie Benson out for a good chunk of the year and Patrick McEleney on the sidelines for a shorter period has given the Dublin hopefuls some cause for optimism.

Either way, they should take Friday's positive vibes as evidence that it's always worth persevering.

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