Sunday 18 February 2018

Premier contenders


Manager: Pat Fenlon

Ground: Dalymount Park

Last season: 2nd

Story of winter: Where do you start? Unable to pay wages of players after the season ended. Failed to reach agreement for a period of time on redundancies, meaning that two players threatened the club with a winding-up order. Fundraising and FAI intervention saved the day but question marks remain over viability.

Worth watching because? Loss of seniors means Fenlon will have to blood some promising youngsters fresh from the Dublin schoolboy scene, with ex-Belvedere trickster Gary Burke one to look forward to.

Key man -- Ger O'Brien: Fenlon is thinking about using his new signing from Sporting Fingal in central midfield rather than as a right-back until Glenn Cronin returns. Success of experiment will be important.

Prediction: 6th

Bray Wanderers

Manager: Pat Devlin

Ground: Carlisle Grounds

Last season: 9th

Story of winter: Concentrated on securing the nucleus of the squad who finished last year strongly to avoid the drop. Kept a relatively low profile otherwise.

Worth watching because? They also have some talented youngsters who likely have bright careers in the game ahead of them. The dodgy 'collapsing wall' has also been replaced by a fence, making it a safer venue to visit.

Key man -- Jake Kelly: Had interest from other clubs over the winter but has chosen to continue his development in Wicklow. Clinical attacker who will be central to survival prospects.

Prediction: 7th

Derry City

Manager: Stephen Kenny

Ground: Brandywell

Last season: First Division Champions

Story of winter: Lost senior players such as Mark Farren and Mark McChrystal, and faced a battle to convince free agents to move north. Mixed luck in terms of nabbing intended targets.

Worth watching because? Kenny's team generally play a decent brand of football, and a stint in the First Division allowed the Dubliner to blood some fresh faces from the region. Could be the surprise package.

Key man -- Kevin Deery: Stayed loyal to Derry after their shock demotion, although there was interest from the Scottish Premier League beforehand. Prodigious talent who was a top player in a higher standard top flight two seasons ago.

Prediction: 4th

Drogheda United

Manager: Mick Cooke

Ground: United Park

Last season: 10th, relegated (reinstated after Sporting Fingal collapse)

Story of winter: Club flirted with extinction and new board comprised of supporters were relieved to survive and face life as an amateur club in Division One. Fingal's collapse changed tack, and recruitment of Cooke suggests renewed optimism.

Worth watching because? Well, if you're from Drogheda and want to keep senior football in the town, it's best to row in behind the club or else there's a real danger they could disappear.

Key man -- Robert Duggan: Until Cooke's squad takes shape after his late appointment, goalkeeper Duggan will be an extremely important player for them.

Prediction: 10th


Manager: Ian Foster

Ground: Oriel Park

Last season: 6th

Story of winter: Eyecatching acquisitions in the striking department, with Jason Byrne and Mark Quigley plucked from Bohs. Top-heavy on attackers until close of business with defenders Colin Hawkins and Shane Guthrie drafted in.

Worth watching because? Still likely to be reliant on potency of attacking players; five goals against Linfield at Windsor Park set the tone.

Key man -- Daniel Kearns: Shone in final months of 2010 after he was picked up from West Ham and the attacking midfielder has realistic dreams of going back across the water. Precious ability to unlock defences in a tight league.

Prediction: 5th

Galway United

Manager: Sean Connor

Ground: Terryland Park

Last season: 8th

Story of winter: Another saga. Persistent chaos followed by failure to secure Premier licence. Newly installed fans' group successful on appeal after frantic efforts, but manager left with limited time to assemble a squad.

Worth watching because? Similar to Drogheda...the people of Galway must know their club can only have so many lives.

Key man -- Karl Moore: Impressed for team of Irish free agents who competed in Oslo tournament. Can offer something different in a side devoid of quality for now.

Prediction: 9th

Shamrock Rovers

Manager: Michael O'Neill

Ground: Tallaght Stadium

Last season: Champions

Story of winter: Waiting for other situations to develop before picking up whatever players they wanted. Have gone down route of nabbing star men from lesser clubs. Abundance of options.

Worth watching because? Best ground in league and, in truth, the majority of best players. New signings like Ronan Finn and Karl Sheppard can use this as stepping stone to next level.

Key man -- Gary Twigg: Still the daddy, despite the capture of Sheppard, Gary O'Neill and Ciaran Kilduff. Delivers when it matters, and was missed when injured last year.

Prediction: 1st

Sligo Rovers

Manager: Paul Cook

Ground: The Showgrounds

Last season: 3rd

Story of winter: Held onto Cook and other influential characters like Richie Ryan and Joseph Ndo when there was a fear all might be lured away after FAI Cup triumph. Couldn't compete with Shamrock Rovers in market, though.

Worth watching because? Quite simply, they have some very good footballers in their ranks. Ndo is always value for money, and John Russell is another who is capable of picking a pass.

Key man -- Richie Ryan: was voted the league's best player in 2010 by his peers, and the ex-Sunderland man is the heartbeat of the Bit O'Red. His well-being is paramount to title charge.

Prediction: 2nd

St Patrick's Athletic

Manager: Pete Mahon

Ground: Richmond Park

Last season: 5th

Story of winter: Stayed out of headlines, but did a bit of behind-the-scenes restructuring and cost cutting in tandem with adding some interesting new recruits to Mahon's dressing-room.

Worth watching because? The spirit returned to Richmond Park last term, and a trip to watch the hard-working Saints on home turf is an authentic League of Ireland experience.

Key man -- Shane McFaul: The midfielder is another Sporting Fingal refugee, and has always had plenty of admirers within the game. Can prove an important cog in the Inchicore wheel.

Prediction: 3rd


Manager: Martin Russell

Ground: Belfield Bowl

Last season: 7th

Story of winter: Powerless to prevent an exodus of the 2010 team to other clubs around the league, with no financial muscle to compete even with the reduced wages elsewhere.

Worth watching because? Visitors to Belfield will generally see players before they become high-profile around the league or further afield at the next stage in their career. Russell's team try to play a nice brand of football.

Key man -- Paul Corry: Had chance to go to Burnley, yet stayed at home to complete his education. Can push on now in second full season in Dublin 4. Exciting midfielder.

Prediction: 8th

Irish Independent

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