LOI v The World’s Best: A Preview

So it’s that time of year again! Over the coming weeks League of Ireland teams welcome our esteemed foreign brethren for a series of friendly games, injected some much needed cash back into our fragile league. This year brings some of the world’s biggest teams to our shores to pit their wits against the best in domestic football, in one of the most exciting summers for mid-season games in years! I’ll be picking the best of these and giving you a little more insight into some of the teams coming to the Emerald Isle!

Bray Wanderers v Wolverhampton Wanderers (21st July)

Jason Byrne will be hoping to carry his league form into the ‘Festival of Football’

This season is all about rebuilding for Wolves, after a disastrous 2011-12 season, deservedly finishing bottom of the Premiership having sacked long-time manager Mick McCarthy. The Birmingham based side boast a number of Irish internationals amongst their ranks; Stephen Ward, Stephen Hunt and Kevin Doyle return to their country of origin, while Doyle will be very familiar with the Carlisle Ground, having kitted out at the seaside ground multiple times for Cork City.

Wolves amassed the paltry total of 14 points last season, scoring only 40 goals, the third lowest total in the Premiership last season. That being said, Wolves will be going into this coming Championship season as one of the favourites, and fully confident that they’ll be able to bounce straight back to the top-flight. Bray welcome new boss Ståle Solbakken‘s side as part of their ‘festival of football’ and will themselves be looking to pick back up their form, only 6 points from safety (at time of writing).

Cork City v Blackburn (12th August)

In an intriguing tie, Tommy Dunne’s men face-off against Steve Kean and Venky’s Blackburn. Blackburn surrendered over a decade of Premiership football last May without much of a fight, with fans completely disillusioned with the new owners and their undying faith in the current manager. The voices of discontent have been strong around Ewood Park over the last few months, and Kean is under severe pressure to deliver promotion back to the top-flight. In order to do that, a strong pre-season is crucial and Blackburn will be looking to beat the Rebel Army comfortably. That won’t be easy though, the Leesiders are the form team in the league at the moment, and have already had good results against Birmingham last year and Ipswich the year before.

Blackburn still possess a good team and one should expect the first-team to line out at Turners Cross, and with the Lancashire side getting back to fitness it should be a tightly contested affair!

Manchester United XI v Longford (23rd) and Cork City (25th July)

Portugese international Bebe is just one name expected to visit our shores

The juggernaut that is Manchester United chugs its way over the Irish Sea for the first time in years, albeit with a side with few familiar names. The United reserves first face Longford at Flancare on Monday the 23rd and then travel south to face Cork City on the 25th. Though the first team are in Asia, there are still a number of marquee names in the ‘XI’ side, like Brazilian full-back Bebé and exciting Irish prospect Robbie Brady.

This will no doubt be a huge money spinner for the two League of Ireland sides, hosting one of the most successful sides in the history of football. Regardless of whether CR7 makes an appearance, the appeal of a side like Manchester United to a greater sporting public is massive, and ticket demand for both games is very high, possibly even selling out! Aside from the financial benefit, this could prove to be a chance to attract new fans to both clubs, and generates fantastic publicity.

Dundalk FC v Chelsea (14th August)

Another massive name coming to Ireland are the current Champions League winners Chelsea! After their heroic European campaign last year, Roberto Di Matteo takes his club to another where heroic efforts are being made in order to survive. Dundalk have been through the wars this season, after taking huge financial loss due to the destruction of playing fields they’re now battling day-by-day for survival. The income generated from this game may be a matter of life and death for the Lilywhites, who themselves once reached the Quarter-Finals of the European Cup!

On the pitch, Chelsea will no doubt field a weakened side from that who played on that unforgettable night in Munich, but still may play some first-team players, getting used to the astro-turf pitch in case they might face Eastern opposition in next year’s Champions League. With tickets reasonably priced it’s a fantastic opportunity to watch Europe’s best for peanuts while simultaneously helping football at home, a fantastic combination if I do say so myself!

Limerick v Manchester City (5th August)

One of the most talent-filled photgraphs you’re likely to see!

In this headline-making matchup, Limerick face Premiership winners Man City in Thomond Park. With City’s squad star studded all the way through, there will be plenty on show regardless of the starting XI. This is a huge coup for Lims, and surely the near 27,000 capacity ground will be close to sold out.

Tickets range from €10 to €30, and this is an excellent price for the chance to see a collection of footballers which resembles a top trumps deck! Both sides will be using the game as preparations for title ambitions. Limerick are level on points with Longford (again, at time of writing!) and need to really kick on if they’re to realise their ambitions. City meanwhile will be using the game as a fitness exercise against a decent team right in the middle of their season; a mouth-watering tie no doubt!


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