The Great Big LOI Season Preview – Premier, Part I

Here at Balls Out In Public, we’d like to offer you a League of Ireland season preview like you’ll see nowhere else. We’ve gathered together to try and make one of the biggest and most in-depth season previews you’ll see. Already published is the First Division Season Preview, courtesy of Brendan White. Here, we bring you Part 1 of 3 of the Premier Division. Included here are the first four teams to appear in alphabetical order of the league – Bohemians, Bray, Cork and Derry.


Bohs celebrating against Portadown

Bohs have changed their squad so much over the winter break, resulting in them being somewhat of an unknown, an enigma of a team to break down and analyze. A mere eight players remain from the class of ’11, while only one of whom, Owen Heary, had any real experience at this level last year. We’ve seen them twice in competitive circumstances so far this season though – both against Portadown in the Setanta Cup. Here, Bohemians performed more than admirably, winning both legs against a team who are currently flying in the Irish League. Despite these results, we can’t be sure if the players who lined up in those fixtures will be Aaron Callaghan’s first choice XI, and despite Owen Heary telling the public in an interview with that Bohs were looking to take the Setanta Cup relatively seriously, we can’t be sure if those were just meaningless words or solid truth.

Either way, Bohs were impressive in the first round of the North/South of the border cup competition. The midfield and defence looked good at soaking up the pressure that Portadown put on them, without offering up many chances to the Armagh based side. To go along with this, The Gypsies looked good at doing this job while missing Derek Pender, who was unable to play due to a registration mix-up, while the experienced Dave Mulcahy has since signed for the club. These players will have more than a fair shout at making the first choice XI for the team this season, and will no doubt boost the overall quality of the Phibsborough club.

Elsewhere, the new-look Gypsies are an exciting blend of youthful zeal and experienced wisdom – much like last season, but with a new cast. Karl Moore and Keith Ward both stood out against the Ports, especially Moore, scoring one of the goals of the season on his competitive debut for Bohs. The team, and the pair of Moore and Ward in particular, enjoyed playing two-touch football as much as they could. Their play will inevitably bring some creativity to the Bohs attack and will create some good chances.

But who will be there to finish those chances off? Former Drogheda United striker Danny Corcoran looked to be first choice forward for Callaghan in the Setanta games, in a system that only used one striker. Other forward options for Bohs are ex-Monghan player David Scully, with three younger, somewhat unknown players John O’Connor, Keith Murray and David Byrne. Should Corcoran or even Scully be off-form or even injured, goals could be a problem for Bohs this season, but with a creative, attack-minded midfield just behind them, the Dalymount faithful will be hoping they will be able to chip in with their fair share of finishes this season, especially those of the same quality of Moore’s finish against Portadown.

Key talking point: Will all the new, young players be able to handle the pressure of playing for a top Premier Division side?

– Cillian Shields

Bray Wanderers

Bray surprised us all by finishing 6th in the league last year and qualifying for a Setanta Cup place, pipping last season’s runners up in that competition, Dundalk, for their berth in the North/South border competition. This season they’ll have to pull off an even bigger shock to finish 6th again.

Bray aren’t in a very strong position heading into the 2012 season. This is party due to some of their bigger performers such as Gary Dempsey, Chris Shields and Jake Kelly all leaving the club. Jason Byrne has been brought in to replace Dempsey anyway, and despite his age, Byrne can still provide a potent threat for any team in the league. But overall, it doesn’t look as though the quality of this year’s Bray squad will match last season’s.

Another reason for Bray to worry is the fact that the Premier Division is now significantly stronger than last season. The structure is now a 12-team league rather than a 10-team one, with Cork and Shels being two of the three teams promoted for this season – two very strong squads. Both of these teams, and probably Monaghan as well, should have enough ability to finish ahead of The Seagulls this year, leaving a weak Bray team to fight against relegation against the likes of UCD, Dundalk and possibly Drogheda (who, incidentally, look to be in a stronger position than last season.)

Kieren Marty Waters could give hope to the Bray faithful, in an effort to change the tone of this preview. The forward played a handful of games last season, and looks set to be a regular this season. His pace and exuberance will provide a nice contrast to Jason Byrne, who could form a decent partnership if deployed correctly in terms of team tactics.

Despite this, Bray aren’t convincing me that they have enough to have a comfortable season. They look set for what could be an exciting relegation battle this year.

Key Talking Point: How will the team cope with the losses of Dempsey, Shields and Kelly?

– Cillian Shields

Cork City

There is an air of optimism in Cork these days. Why, you ask? Well they make their return to Premier Division football with an impressive looking squad at Tommy Dunne’s disposal.

I think the general opinion of League of Ireland fans is that they’re happy to see Cork’s re-emergence as a Premier Division side. Their fans bring much noise, colour and hype and their continued support even the dark years of the First Division proved their love for the club didn’t die, attracting up to 3,000 fans for a game at one point during the summer.

The squad consists of a lot of new faces, but perhaps the two outstanding acquisitions are the familiar faces of Colin Healy and Dan Murray. Another player the Rebel Army will be delighted to have for the season is Daryl Horgan. The winger proved to be revelation when he arrived on loan from Sligo Rovers last year, and have now secured him on a two year contract.

One problem Tommy Dunne may face however is a lack of firepower up front. He looked set to be able to rely on Graham Cummins to find the net for his side, but with a late move to Preston they will now rely on loan signing Tadgh Purcell to step up to the mark and fill the big boots left by the young striker.

The Leesiders look too strong to face a relegation battle, in fact, they may even be a good shout for a top four spot if they can find the goals in Cummins’ absence.

Key Talking Point: Can Cork City achieve their aims this season without Graham Cummins’ goals?

– Alan Finn

Derry City

Like a number of teams this year, Derry City will be going into the 2012 season with a new manager at the helm, but they have plenty to be excited about what may lie ahead of them.

Many will argue that Derry suffered a dip in form when James McClean departed the club for Sunderland, but if his pre-season form has been anything to go by, Patrick McEleney may be the man to replace to rising Premiership star having stood out during a number of games so far. Their right wing will be equally if not more impressive as they managed to hold onto Stephen McLaughlin who made a big impression in his first season as a top flight player.

The Candystripes have lost a number of key players since the end of the season such as Eamon Zayed, Daniel Lafferty and Gareth McGlynn, but they have also made a number of interesting acquisitions such as Rory Patterson, Brian McGrory and former Dundalk captain Simon Madden who will be seen as their replacements. Despite losing three important players, Declan Devine has also managed to convince the majority of the squad to agree new deals with the club, most notably Gerard Doherty, Mark Farren and Kevin Deery. A nice blend of youth and experience which we saw much of during Stephen Kenny’s two reigns as manager of the club.

Unfortunately for the fans they will have no European adventure to look forward to this summer, but they may also see it as one less distraction as they can put more focus on domestic competitions. The EA Sports Cup in particular will be a competition where they will be deemed favourites to retain their title.

The League title may just be out of their reach again this season, but guaranteeing themselves European football and at least one cup at the end of year looks very realistic as Devine prepares for his first season as a manager after almost five years as assistant at The Brandywell.

Key Talking Point: Will Declan Devine prove that he is the right man to take over from Stephen Kenny?

– Alan Finn


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