The Great Big LOI Season Preview – Premier, Part III


The last installment of our Season Preview features Shelbourne, back in the top flight after a number of years dwindling in the First Division, Sligo Rovers, looking to battle for the title again this season, St. Patrick’s Athletic (formerly known as Bohemians, due to the amount of ex-Bohs in their squad) and UCD, the team that beat La Liga’s Villarreal last year 4-3.

Shelbourne

Proving weight is no barrier - Philip Hughes (left)

After years of coming agonizingly close, Shelbourne are back where they feel they belong, in the Premier Division. Alan Matthews brings the Tolka Park outfit into Ireland’s top tier on the back of losing the First Division title in the dying moments of the season to Cork City, in what turned out to be one of the most exciting finishes to a league season probably ever. Despite that slip, that Shels fans would begrudgingly accept due to the promotion that they still won, Shels visited Lansdowne Road on Cup Final day. Here, they went toe to toe with a Sligo Rovers team who looked excellent all season and finished in 2nd place in the Premier Division, only to be beaten on penalties after playing most of the game with ten men.

Much of last season’s squad has been retained; Paisley, Cassidy, Hughes are but a few of the names that will have a big part to play for Shels this season. The squad that the club had last year would overall be good enough to compete admirably in the Premier Division, but to go along with those are the signings of Glenn Cronin, Anto Murphy and Paddy Kavanagh from Bohemians, St. Pat’s and Shamrock Rovers respectively. Cronin was one of Bohs’ best players last season, while Kavanagh has the quality to be a decent player for The Reds.

Shelbourne should find their first season back in the Premier Division relatively comfortable. They have the players to survive in the league anyway, with stronger looking squads than the likes of Bray and Dundalk at least.

Key talking point: Will Philip Hughes be able to score as prolifically in the Premier as he did in the First Division?

– Cillian Shields

Sligo Rovers

A new manager, a new sponsor and a few new players. It’s going to be a strange ol’ season for some fans of The Bit O’Red, seeing no Paul Cook on the touchline or Tohers Chemist the front of the jersey – but perhaps both have changed for the good.

The Paul Cook saga was a well documented affair, and without wasting too much of this article discussing it, I will say one thing is that it’s probably best he departed, albeit at the wrong time, as his heart may just not have been in it for the season ahead. A new chapter in the history of the club has now opened with the appointment of former Scunthorpe manager Ian Baraclough who has inherited a team who have another successful year on their minds.

Baraclough is yet another obscure manager to take over at The Showgrounds, following the footsteps of Willie McStay, Lawrie Sanchez, Steve Cotterill, Sean Connor and Paul Cook who have all enjoyed success and gone on to achieve great things.

With their long time sponsors no longer on the jerseys, Sligo Rovers have also seen another change with Volkswagen Ireland and Connolly’s Motors becoming the club’s new main sponsors. This will be the club’s biggest ever sponsorship deal and shows the appeal they now have when a world-recognised car manufacturer wants to be part of the growing success out West.

Now for on the pitch matters, the fans have every reason to be excited. Despite losing Eoin Doyle, Brendan Clarke and Richie Ryan they have added great quality to their side with signings such as Mark Quigley, Romauld Boco, Danny North and Gary Rogers while also holding onto the likes of Alan Keane, Gavin Peers, Iarfhliath Davoren and Joseph Ndo to name but a few.

Despite a young manager with no League of Ireland experience at the helm, I still expect The Bit O’Red to finish high in the table this season and secure European football for another year.

Key Talking Point: How will the largely unknown Ian Baraclough cope after being given so little time to prepare for the season?

– Alan Finn

St Patrick’s Athletic:

Another team that have rung the changes during the close season, Pat’s will be hoping that all of their new recruits (most of whom were released by Bohemians) will be able to improve on last season’s impressive 4th place finish. Last season, the south Dublin side were under the management of Pete Mahon and gained a reputation of playing a direct long ball game. With Mahon now gone and striker Daryl Kavanagh at Shamrock Rovers, it is fair to say that Pats might well move away from that style and then finally try and break the strangle hold that Shamrock Rovers have had on the title in the last few seasons.

One of the Saints' new signings, Ger O'Brien

Another thing that will be fresh on the minds of the Richmond Park faithful is the club’s bad luck in the FAI Cup in recent years (51, to be precise.) They haven’t lifted the trophy since 1961 and have been dogged by upsets in recent years. They managed to reach the semi finals last season and everyone thought it was perhaps their year until they were rumbled by then-First Division side Shelbourne in a replay.

Perhaps the club’s failure to do well in the cup has brought about the decision to replace Pete Mahon with former manager Liam Buckley (who Previously won the league with Pat’s in 1999). Buckley had an excellent record in cup competitions with Sporting Fingal in his two seasons with the now dissolved club. He reached 2 finals with them, winning one in 2010 against Sligo Rovers. One downside to the appointment of Buckley will be the accusation of un-professionalism that was aimed at his Sporting Fingal side in the latter stages of his tenure.

In terms of ins and outs at Richmond Park, there has certainly been a lot of movement on both sides of the periphery. Star forwards Danny North and Daryl Kavanagh decided to go to last year’s top two Sligo and Shamrock Rovers, respectively. Derek Pender, Neil Harney (U-19s), Evan MacMillan, Dave Mulcahy and John O’Connor (U-19s) all decided to move to the north side to Bohs. In return, some of the Gypsies’ most important stalwarts from last season decided to go the other way. Goalkeeper Barry Murphy, defenders Aidan Price, Ger O’Brien and Mark Rossiter, winger Christopher Forrester and striker Christy Fagan all arrived from Dalymount Park. The experience of winning titles that Rossiter and Price and have could be crucial in determining whether this season will be a good one for Pat’s.

Key Talking Point: It remains to be seen whether the six players from Bohs will have the same impact that they did under Pat Fenlon in previous years under Liam Buckley.

– Robert O’Reardon

UCD:

If there is one team that seems that most people think will end their stay in the Premier Division this season it is the Students. They have long won the hearts of many neutrals for their pass and move football but can they really defy the odds and stay in the top flight for yet another season? If they are to do so, it seems their well respected coach Martin Russell will have a massive job on his hands if that is to be the case.

Last season, UCD pulled off some truly amazing shocks at the Belfield Bowl. Towards the end of the season, a crazy week saw the students end Bohemians and St Pat’s slim title hopes as they beat them 2-0 and 2-1 respectively. But, perhaps the biggest shock of all was when 3rd placed Spanish side Villarreal came to Dublin and were shocked 4-3 at the Belfield Bowl (albeit in a friendly, but the Spaniards fielded many of their first choice players that day.) It was a great result for the side and one that will live long in the memory. If UCD are to keep their status as a top flight side, performances like this will have to be applied to the games against the teams around them in the league, which is easier said than done.

Another factor of course is the players that have since left the club. Darren Mennan decided to move to Pat’s and Dean Marshall moved to The Drogs. Perhaps the most exciting bit of news for UCD fans is the signing of Gary Burke from Bohemians. Because of the Gypsies’ financial plight, Burke was a regular in the matchday 15 for Bohs last year and often impressed off the bench. If he can adapt to the wonderful style of football that is encouraged under Russell, then his goals and assists may be the difference in UCD staying in the division.

Key Talking Point: Will UCD be ale to continue their fearless style of play, or is it time for them to turn to an uglier side of football to get the results they will need?

– Robert O’Reardon

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