The record books will show that the debate around whether the 2020 League of Ireland season would return lasted for longer than the post-shutdown action.
Pandemic politics have drained the protagonists. When it emerged yesterday that the FAI are against the idea of First Division clubs charging for the streaming of their games, even though some had invested on that basis, there was more hand-wringing.
At times, it has become far too easy to forget that clubs here actually do play football as well as engage in never´-ending debates about formats and finance.
Hopefully, the focus will shift when this strange campaign resumes tomorrow. There’s a theory that an asterisk will be attached to 2020 in the record books because of the Covid shutdown halving the Premier Division season, but the prizes on offer remain unchanged. The stakes are huge. Here’s where the clubs stand.
The story so far? Five wins from five and a significant win over Dundalk in the bag which is especially important now there’s just 13 games remaining. They just need to regain momentum.
What happens now? The loss of Greg Bolger to a season-ending injury and a few fitness concerns over key players – with Europe also to be factored into the mix – means that squad depth will be tested.
Key man? Jack Byrne would have started 2020 with the idea that a summer move was an option. He’ll have an audience watching his every move with his contract up.
The story so far? Four wins from five is good in a normal year, but that Tallaght defeat means they have little room for error in an 18-game season.
What happens now? They simply have to hit the ground running and Vinny Perth has added Serb Stefan Colovic and Englishman Nathan Oduwa in to strengthen forward options with David McMillan back to replace Georgie Kelly. Europe will test their squad but the scope to use five subs in league games will suit them.
Key man? Colovic is fascinating but Patrick Hoban’s form remains vital.
The story so far? Three wins from five after an agonising loss to Rovers is respectable for a club that is looking to consolidate its place as a European qualifer.
What happens now? Keith Long has assembled a big squad which will stand to them with a Europa League date in the Aviva on the cards if they land home advantage. They will fancy a cup run too.
Key man? Danny Mandroiu has the star quality, but sustained a knock last week which is a worry.
ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC
The story so far? Shaky start and they were looking like a team that would learn on the job this year with Stephen O’Donnell bringing in some external recruits to go with promising youths. Goals looked to be a worry.
What happens now? The loan signing of Kelly from Dundalk gives O’Donnell’s side a striker of quality and, with no European distraction, they can focus on getting points on the board although they have a hectic schedule at the outset. O’Donnell announced the capture of ex-Bradford player Jordan Gibson (22) and Latvian David Titov (20) ahead of tomorrow’s jaunt to Dundalk. A top-four place is the goal.
Key man? Kelly will provide a serious presence but the versatile Lee Desmond is an important cog in the wheel.
The story so far? Like the Saints, they had registered two wins and two losses and it looked as though they would feed off the energy of Tolka Park fans grateful to be back in the top-flight again.
What happens now? Closed-doors football will make for a different atmosphere yet Ian Morris has a battle hardened squad and has recruited some youngsters over the break. They should be able to achieve their goal of survival.
Key man? Gary Deegan’s leadership skills will be invaluable especially if intensity levels drop.
The story so far? Brian Murphy’s heroics secured three points from Richmond Park on the opening day with Alan Reynolds adding loanees at the last minute within the confines of a tight budget. Reynolds left during the lockdown and is now Dundalk assistant.
What happens now? John Sheridan has taken the reins in testing circumstances and several pre-season additions won’t be returning. Graham Cummins and Kevin O’Connor have joined Cork. Daryl Murphy is due home, but has injury problems. It’s hard to know what to expect and they will do well to stay out of the bottom two.
Key man? Michael O’Connor has come back to the club and the Dundalk native can be a handful when he’s fully fit.
The story so far? The European qualifiers hadn’t clicked into gear in the early marks with question marks over the capabilities of new faces and Declan Devine is coming back to the fray with a much changed squad. Former Cardiff City striker Ibrahim Meite and Northern Ireland U-21 international Jake Dunwoody signed short-term deals yesterday.
What happens now? The Candystripes started the year with hopes of building on 2019 but highly touted Norwegian front man Tim Nilsen is gone after returning below peak physical condition and Devine has now rolled the dice again.
Key man? Adam Hammill is an eye-opening acquisition. Devine says he was only able to sign the ex-Premier League player because of the uncertainty in the English lower leagues. If the 32-year-old can get anywhere near his best, he’ll do damage.
The story so far? Ollie Horgan signed well over the winter and their early season performances were better than the tally of four points from four games suggests.
What happens now? There’s a view that the concept of home advantage is cancelled out by the absence of spectators, but they remain capable of making Finn Park a tough place to visit even though the dressing-rooms have undergone a serious upgrade. It will be a fight to stay up, but they retain characters who know the terrain.
Key man? Barry McNamee was the headline-grabbing capture and the playmaker’s form may well inform Harps’ finishing position.
The story so far? One win from five but Neale Fenn explained that a young side needed time to gel and would come good across a 36-game season. The mood has changed with the goalposts moved.
What happens now? Cummins and O’Connor were brought in from Waterford for their know-how and Fenn is looking to older members of the group to step up and steer the ship from trouble. They are in a spot of bother.
Key man? Fenn played the UK loan market and hasn’t brought all of them back but QPR employee Deshane Dalling has returned and the talented winger has game-changing capabilities.
The story so far? Zero points from four games so it’s hardly surprising they were opposed to retaining the same rules on relegation.
What happens now? They embarked on a significant fundraising drive and splashed out on last season’s top scorer Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe in an attempt to preserve their top flight status. They can’t afford a tardy opening.
Key man? New Zealand international Ryan De Vries made his debut in the last game before the break but all eyes will be on ex-Derry man Junior following his brief spell in Israel.