League of Ireland season preview – Part ThreePosted: March 7, 2013
Our League of Ireland season previews continue and end here, with Shelbourne, Pat’s, Sligo Rovers, and UCD all looked at. You can read part one here (Bohs, Bray, Cork, Derry) and part two here (Drogheda, Dundalk, Limerick, Shamrock Rovers).
Despite the majority of Shelbourne fans not being overly enamoured by manager Alan Mathews, he remains in his position for the coming season despite a disappointing end to 2012. Like many teams who finished in midtable last season, the aim will be to try and emulate what Drogheda did last year and breach the top four and earn a European spot.
As of Tuesday only 13 players had signed but in the last couple of days a squad of 23 was announced with the notable absence of Dean Delany who moved across North Dublin to sign for Bohemians. New signings include Sean Brennan, one of the Brennan brothers who has signed from last years runners up Drogheda United and Pat Flynn has joined from Dublin rivals St Patricks Athletic. Graham Gartland and Robert Bayly have also decided to join.
Phily Hughes, who was linked with a move away from Tolka Park has decided to stay on for at least another season, music to the ears of Shels fans. Hughes’ goals have been crucial to the cause over the past few seasons and once again success this season will hinge on whether the 31-year-old can find the net regularly again.
St. Patrick’s Athletic
After yet another cup final disappointment, Liam Buckley’s men seem to be many people’s tip for the title this season. To try and secure their first title since 1999, the former Sporting Fingal manager has been fine tuning his squad trying to bridge the six points that his side finished behind last year’s champions Sligo Rovers.
Limerick goalkeeper Dave Ryan has been signed to replace the outgoing Barry Murphy while Conor Murphy has been snapped up from Derry City. Pat’s have also pulled off one of the biggest shocks of the off-season with the signing of Killian Brennan from Shamrock Rovers. The former Bohemians man failed to settle in Tallaght and his two league titles with the Gypsies might add the experience that is needed to help push Pat’s over the line.
It could also be argued that managing to keep Chris Forrester and Jake Carroll is as important to the Saints as making new signings. Despite interest, both will be at Richmond Park until at least the summer. The Inchicore faithful will be hoping that this year will be their year in the League. One suspects they would just about settle for an FAI cup win, though.
As a new season begins, Sligo Rovers fans will have to move forward from last season’s success as they begin on a level playing field this Friday. The defending champions have lost star players such Jason McGuinness and Mark Quigley but have retained the bulk of the 2012 squad as well as adding Evan McMillan, Aaron Greene and Anthony Elding who is brand new to the League of Ireland.
Elding has been brought in as the main goalscorer in the squad following Quigley’s departure and while Danny North continues his recovery from a long-term injury picked up last summer. It is going to be a very competitive League this season with no ‘easy games’, but I feel Sligo Rovers have what it takes to defend their title and will be right up there at the end of the season.
UCD have been in the top flight now for almost 10 years, and yet haven’t once made European competition since their Intertoto Cup campaign in 2000. Many clubs see the Students as a thorn in the league, who have little to contribute to the competition as a whole. UCD fans see it completely differently though, and cite the development of dozens of successful League of Ireland players to say that the club contributes as much as any other to the success of the league.
Many of the Students’ squad have already tasted success so far this season, having won the Collingwood Cup in late February. Player of the tournament was Robbie Benson, and it was his performances that saw the Belfield outfit finish eleven points from safety. The Students did manage some good results; picking up two home wins against Cork City as well as wins against champions Sligo. They will be looking to improve though, having battled down the bottom of the table for the majority of the season.
The scholars have had a mixed pre-season campaign. A loss against Mervue will have re-focused the South Dublin side after wins against Athlone Town and Shamrock Rovers, but a good win in the Leinster Senior Cup against Bohs, courtesy of a Ciaran Nangle last minute extra-time own-goal winner, inspired confidence in the side before dispatching UCC 1-0 in the final of the premier university competition, the Collingwood Cup. The Students will be hoping to avail of some of their young guns from the u19 setup, who are still in with a shout of winning the Elite League title, as well as new players in the form of Craig Walsh from Longford. Another new player signed is Dinny Corcoran, who had a decent season with Bohemians last year, and will no doubt bolster their attack line.