League of Ireland 2013 preview – Part OnePosted: March 5, 2013
After narrowly missing out on a Setanta Cup place on the last day of last season, the aim for Aaron Callaghan’s side will surely be to go one better this season. Like the previous two seasons at Dalymount Park, a lack of finances has frustrated whoever the manager has been as they attempted to attract players to the club. But, what has been different from the previous two seasons is that there hasn’t been a mass exodus of players and the former Crusaders manager will have the majority of last season’s squad to work with.
There have been some departures, however. Last season’s excellent centre back partnership have decided to move on to new pastures with Evan McMillan heading west to join champions Sligo Rovers and Kevin Feely heading across the Irish sea to join Charlton Athletic.
Stephen Paisley has been brought in to replace them and strikers Chris Lyons and Darragh Hanaphy have been recruited to help ease the goal scoring burden which was a main problem for the Gypsies last season. If they carry their 100% pre season record into the new season then you wouldn’t bet against Aaron Callaghan and his boys breaking into the top four this season.
The team that refuse to go down, Bray Wanderers, have somehow managed to maintain Premier status for the last nine years, surviving a promotion/relegation battle and relegation altogether when only the demise of Cork City saved them from second-tier football, all in the last few years. In 2011 Wanderers did enough to earn themselves a Setanta Cup place. Last year they were spearheaded by the return of Jason Byrne, who finished with 14 goals, and the creation of a new star in the League in the shape of Kieran Marty Waters. Despite that, Wanderers only escaped the bottom by five points, and it was only Dundalk’s difficulties off the pitch that saw them finish below the County Wicklow outfit.
This year Eric Devlin’s side will be hoping for better, and enjoyed a comfortable 4-1 win over Waterford at the end of February in preseason, with Kieran Waters showing some of his 2012 form with two goals, the second a rifled shot. A few days later Gormley’s men ground out a well-deserved 1-0 win away to Longford Town, and Wanderer’s netminder Darren Quigley will be hoping for a few more clean sheets after a season in which Bray leaked 54 goals.
So far, League of Ireland stalwart Gary Dempsey has signed back with Wanderers after a year with Waterford United, and joining him is Eoin Hyland from St. Patrick’s Athletic. One big loss for Wanderers is Dane Massey, who featured regularly last year but has since packed his bags and headed further North to Dundalk.
This is the Rebel Army’s second year back in the top flight since financial irregularities saw them out of the League altogether in 2009. The current squad now have three years under their belt, two in the first division, and are looking to be European dark horses for the coming season.
It was a season of three thirds for Tommy Dunne’s men in 2012, their first game saw the Cork outfit go down with little of a fight in the opening game away to UCD, and despite respectable draws against Shamrock Rovers and a resounding 6-0 win over Monaghan United (later revoked) the Leesiders were winless in their first seven league games, and having been ingloriously dumped out of the cup at the hands of Munster rivals Limerick FC 3-0.
Finally though, on the 27th April, City did finally manage to win a game, in a carbon copy of the last league win to that point, a 2-1 win away to Shelbourne. Graham Cummins famously scored City’s last minute winner in the 2011 First Division title decider, and it was clear the Rebel Army missed his services in 2012 following his transfer to Preston North End. Having said that the Rebel Army went 13 competitive games unbeaten following that win, though having drawn a lot of games they eventually settled for a Setanta Cup place and 6th in the table.
So far this pre-season Tommy Dunne’s men have been flying on all cylinders, and appear to have finally found a scoring touch, putting six past runaway Irish League leaders Cliftonville over two legs. This can be put down to the new frontmen Dunne has brought to Leeside over winter. Denis Behan, Danny Furlong and Daryl Kavanagh have all been recruited by the Dubliner, now in his fourth season in charge of the Rebel Army. Last year’s top scorer Vinny Sullivan has left for Waterford United, and following him was centre-back Gavin Kavanagh. Replacing him is Darren Dennehy, brother of ex-City winger Billy, who comes at 24 with a long history across the water. Another man brought in cross-channel is wide midfielder Adam Rundle, who has racked up over 150 appearances in the English lower league.
Derry City begin this year’s campaign with a ‘Charity Shield’ style opening fixture when they take on League champions Sligo Rovers at The Brandywell on Friday. The Candystripes league form was patchy last season but I feel we will see a much improved side this time around. Stephen McLaughlin and David McDaid are certainly a big loss for Declan Devine’s side, but the arrival of Mark Griffin will excite the Derry faithful and the potential of him and a fully fit Rory Patterson linking up as a striking partnership sounds very promising.
A title challenge is possibly just beyond them, but I think they are more than capable of securing a European spot and can see them going far in Cup competitions once again.