League of Ireland 2013 Preview – Part TwoPosted: March 6, 2013
With only days remaining to the League of Ireland 2013 season, Alan Finn, Kevin Galvin, and Robert O’Reardon, continue their three-part preview. In this piece, they look at Drogheda United, who finished last season in an incredibly-impressive second place, Dundalk, who almost went bust in the middle of last season but are now back with a good squad and new manager Stephen Kenny, Limerick FC, who boast by far the most impressive stadium in the league and will provide many talking points, and Shamrock Rovers, who’ve again made their off-season marquee signings and will be hoping for a much improved season after last season’s awful display.
Last season was a fairy tale for Drogheda United. At the start of the year, they were tipped as relegation candidates, by the end of October they were runners up in the League, EA Sports Cup title holders and secured a place in next season’s Europa League. Mick Cooke goes into the season having retained the bulk of his squad and has made a few additions to his squad, most notably the highly rated Paul O’Conor from UCD. Should he click with influential captain Eric Foley, the Drogs midfield will be a joy to watch next year. I think Drogheda will enjoy another impressive League campaign and I can see them winning one Cup competition again.
After avoiding possible liquidation and relegation with the skin of their teeth last season, the start of this campaign is a bit more optimistic for the faithful of Oriel Park. On top of that, new manager Stephen Kenny will be looking to bounce back from his failure with Shamrock Rovers and show the world why he got the high-profile job in the first place.
On top of being able to attract the former Derry City manager to the club, they have been able to attract some new faces (and some old ones too, back) to the club. Former midfielder, Keith Ward, who looked set to stay with Bohemians, found the Louth club’s offer too tempting to turn down. Other big name signings include Stephen O’Donnell from Shamrock Rovers and Vinny Faherty from St. Patrick’s Athletic. Dundalk’s recent spending spree has raised a lot of eyebrows, especially since they almost went out of business in the summer. One would question and worry whether lessons have been learned.
When Limerick were confirmed as First Division champions on the 5th October, it came as no great surprise. They started at 2/9 to be crowned outright champions of the division before a ball was even kicked, and bookies were even going as far as offering odds on them not to drop a single point all season! With a wealth of ex-Premier Division players amongst their ranks like Joe Gamble and Pat Purcell, as well as up-and-coming young talent in the shape of Dave O’Leary and Rory Gaffney, it was expected that nobody would touch the Shannonsiders.
When they were beaten by Waterford by three goals to one in only their second game of the season, reality managed to find its way back to the Treaty County eventually. They also dropped three points away to Longford early on but besides that Pat Scully’s men swept aside almost every team in the league. Waterford though, did manage to beat their Munster rivals in every one of the four league meetings between the two.
This season brings a lot of optimism to the Blues, with the prospect of Premier Division football for the first time since 1994, and playing in one of Ireland’s newest stadiums in the shape of the 26,500 capacity Thomond Park on the north side of the city. A lot more has changed at the club though than just a change of ground; manager Pat Scully left in rather acrimonious circumstances and the board looked across the water for his successor. In the end, Scottish journeyman Stuart Taylor was appointed the gaffer for the 2013 season, and since being instilled has made a number of signings from England and Scotland including Liverpudlian Craig Curran, and Scottish league players Danny Galbraith, Jonathan Tiffoney, and Belgian native and former Motherwell striker Axel Bossekota.
Pre-season hasn’t been great for Limerick: drawing at home to Mervue, losing to Waterford and Cobh Ramblers, and most recently falling 4-2 to amateur outfit Avondale United in a Munster Senior Cup game in which the non-league outfit dominated from start to finish.
There is a fresh air of optimism in Tallaght as the club and its fans looks to put last season’s nightmare behind them. With a new manager and wholesale changes, Shamrock Rovers already look set for a much better campaign this year.
Mark Quigley, Jason McGuinness and Sean O’Connor are top signings while Ronan Finn and Ciaran Kilduff have already proven they can be top players for the side, but the gelling process and the inexperience of Trevor Croly may leave some lingering fears. Another arrival that will have the Hoops fans excited is the re-arrival of Karl Sheppard, on loan from Reading FC. The Ireland Under-21 international played for Rovers for one year, becoming one of the league’s most-feared strikers during that time, helping his side to Setanta Cup and league title glory. The former Galway United striker will stay at the club on a six-month loan deal.
I expect them to challenge for the title this year, and they will need big performances from all areas of the pitch, with the form of Mark Quigley in particular perhaps being the key to any potential success for the year ahead.