Airtricity League 2020: Club-by-club preview
Dundalk could be hard-pressed to defend their title from Rovers while Shels return
Dundalk are hoping to win their sixth title in seven years. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Ins: Jamie Mullins, JJ Lunney, Glen McAuley, Callum Thompson, Gavin O’Brien, Kris Twardek, Anto Breslin, Stephen McGuinness, Dan Casey, Ciarán Kelly.
Outs: Aaron Barry, Derek Pender, Brandon Bermingham, Robbie McCourt, Ryan Swan, Darragh Leahy, Scott Allardice.
Manager: Keith Long.
Last year: 3rd.
Pre-season: As always, pre-season has to be taken with a pinch of salt but, all in all, there have been plenty of positives for Bohs to take with three friendlies played and three wins banked against Longford, Drogheda and Wexford.
Expectations: Keith Long’s reign as Bohs manager has been incredibly impressive so far given the small budget and lack of resources he’s working with. The Dalymount club go into this season with the youngest squad in the league and will be hard-pressed to repeat their surprise achievement of European qualification. Last season they struggled for goals, scoring one or less in 26 of their 36 league matches, and could be largely reliant on veteran striker Dinny Corcoran again this season.
Ins: Cian Coleman, Liam Bossin, Charlie Fleming, Rob Slevin, Henry Ochieng, Dylan McGlade, Conor Davis, Corey Galvin, Kyron Stabana, Reyon Dillon, Joe Redmond, Joseph Olowu.
Outs: Aaron Barry, Conor McCarthy, Tadhg Ryan, Colm Horgan, Conor McCormack, Shane Griffin, Garry Buckley, Pierce Phillips, Karl Sheppard, Eoghan Stokes, Mark O’Sullivan, Graham Cummins, Dan Casey.
Manager: Neale Fenn.
Last year: 8th.
Pre-season: Four wins from four spells a perfect return for Cork in pre-season but there is plenty of uncertainty around the place as to what this year will bring.
Expectations: After battling Dundalk at the top for five seasons before budgets and resources hit them hard last season, Cork are in somewhat of a rebuilding phase. Expectations have been tempered for this campaign which will be Neale Fenn’s first full season in charge. Star quality remains in the likes of captain Gearóid Morrissey but losses of players such as Conor McCarthy and Conor McCormack will surely hurt them.
Ins: Patrick Ferry, Orrin McLaughlin, Conor Clifford, Danny Lupano, Tim Nilsen, Michael Harris, Conor McCormack, Evan McLoughlin, Stephen Mallon, Moussa Bakayoko, Jack Lemoignan, Walter Figueira, Colm Horgan.
Outs: Barry McNamee, Greg Sloggett, Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, Michael McCrudden, David Parkhouse, Conor Davis.
Manager: Declan Devine.
Last year: 4th.
Pre-season: Three wins from three with seven goals scored set the Foylesiders in good stead for the campaign.
Expectations: Declan Devine’s side perhaps have the best chance of breaking the top two this season after strengthening very well. The signings of Conor Clifford and Conor McCormack who, at 28 and 29 years old respectively, could well be in their prime. After falling off the pace towards the end of last season by only winning three of their last eight games they will be hoping to last better this year.
Ins: Cammy Smith, Greg Sloggett, Darragh Leahy, Will Patching.
Outs: Robbie Benson, Dean Jarvis, Cameron Dummigan, Dylan Hand, Aaron McNally, Ross Treacy, Stephen Folan.
Manager: Vinny Perth.
Last year: 1st.
Pre-season: Two defeats in their Spanish pre-season camp were no disasters given that they were against Cluj and CSKA Moscow but the reigning champions have only managed to win three of their seven friendlies.
Expectations: Fans, investors and most onlookers will expect nothing less than a sixth title in seven years but Shamrock Rovers showed in the FAI Cup final last year that they’re ready to kick on. Vinny Perth has managed to keep a fairly settled squad for the upcoming campaign and has only brought in four new players. Last season they started slowly and gave Rovers a huge early lead before reining them in and winning at a canter. They can’t afford to do the same this season.
Ins: Ryan Connolly, David Webster, Aidy Delap, Shane McEleney, Karl O’Sullivan, Kosovar Sadiki, Shaun Kelly, Barry McNamee, Leo Donnellan.
Outs: Keith Cowan, Mikey Place, Daniel O’Reilly, Joshua Smith, Nathan Boyle, Harry Ashcroft, Colm Deasy.
Manager: Ollie Horgan.
Last year: 9th.
Pre-season: Two defeats and one postponed match haven’t offered many positives for the Donegal side.
Expectations: Ollie Horgan’s men narrowly avoided relegation last season by coming through the playoffs in extra-time against Drogheda and this season they look like facing a similar battle. The signing of Barry McNamee does offer some star power and Raf Cretaro’s U-turn on retirement will give them some more experience in the dressingroom but, on paper at least, they look like the weakest team in the league.
Ins: Cole Omorehiomnan, Liam Scales, Rhys Marshall.
Outs: Seán Boyd, Orhan Vojic, Eric Abulu, Ethan Boyle, Joel Coustrain, Sam Bone.
Manager: Stephen Bradley.
Last year: 2nd.
Pre-season: Four wins and two draws with just two goals conceded set the Hoops up nicely for the upcoming campaign.
Expectations: There’s no doubting Rovers’ commitment to a long-term project with Stephen Bradley in charge but last season’s FAI Cup win was definitely necessary to ease some of the pressure on a club expected to win silverware every season. Last season they began the league like a house on fire with 10 wins in their first 12 before faltering. They should have learned from that and, with a squad that looks every bit as good as Dundalk’s, this year could see them lift the title for the first time since 2011.
Ins: Gary Deegan, Jack Brady, Aaron Dobbs, Karl Sheppard, Daniel O’Reilly, Georgie Poynton.
Outs: Conan Byrne, John Ross Wilson, Derek Prendergast, Craig Giles, James English, Greg Moorhouse, Darragh Noone, Reece McEnteer, Dean Delany, Flavio Marku.
Manager: Ian Morris.
Last year: First Division winners.
Pre-season: Two draws, two wins and a loss make up the pre-season record for Shels with the defeat coming just last week to Bray Wanderers at Tolka Park.
Expectations: After winning the First Division title to return to the top flight for the first time in six years, the 13-times champions of Ireland will firstly want to consolidate their position but, with a young manager and an ambitious board behind them, anything as high as a top four finish wouldn’t be out of reach. Ciarán Kilduff’s goals will be key again while a mixture of exciting youth products such as Jaze Kabia and Shane Farrell, along with the experience of Karl Sheppard, Oscar Brennan and Ryan Brennan, make Shels a formidable prospect.
Ins: Darragh Noone, Will Seymore, Garry Buckley, Teemu Penninkangas, Jesse Devers.
Outs: Dante Leverock, Sam Warde, Kris Twardek, Romeo Parkes, Daryl Fordyce.
Manager: Liam Buckley.
Last year: 7th.
Pre-season: Three wins and one draw has seen the Showgrounds side come out of pre-season with a decent return.
Expectations: Sligo managed to avoid getting involved in a relegation playoff last year largely due to Finn Harps and UCD both being far weaker and, with a very similar squad this year, they will likely be down that end of the table again. However, Liam Buckley is a proven manager and he has made some interesting signings such as former Harps player Jesse Devers and Teemu Penninkangas from the Finnish top flight.
St Patrick’s Athletic
Ins: Cian Corbally, Robbie Benson, Ugo Anny Nzekwue, Daniel Dobbin, Jamie Whelan, Jamie Doyle, Dara McGuinness, Rory Feely, Billy King, Martin Rennie, Shane Griffin, Ben McCormack, Conor Kearns, Cian Kelly, Seán Madden, Morgan Rice, Joshua Keeley, Jason McClelland, Brandon Holt, Dan Ward.
Outs: Ciarán Kelly, Michael Drennan, David Webster, Glen McAuley, Conor Clifford, Gary Shaw, Rhys McCabe.
Manager: Stephen O’Donnell.
Last year: 5th.
Pre-season: Two wins – with eight goals – and one draw will be a pleasing pre-season for O’Donnell.
Expectations: For his first full season in charge Stephen O’Donnell has brought a host of new players into the Inchicore club and expectations are high. Last season the Saints were only five points off securing the final Europa League qualifying spot after a scrappy end to the season after O’Donnell came in at the end of August. But, after a full off-season to build his own squad the former Dundalk midfielder will have his eyes on going one better this year.
Ins: Sam Bone, Scott Allardice, Graham Cummins, Tadhg Ryan, Kevin O’Connor, Michael O’Connor, Robbie McCourt, Ali Cootes, Matty Smith, Tyreke Wilson, Brian Murphy.
Outs: Rory Feely, Shane Duggan, JJ Lunney, Zack Elbouzedi, Dean O’Halloran, Cory Galvin, Georgie Poynton, Rob Slevin, Colm Whelan, Kenny Browne, Maxim Kouguon.
Manager: Alan Reynolds.
Last year: 6th.
Pre-season: Reynolds’s side have come through with two wins and two draws, one of which came against Premier Division rivals Shamrock Rovers.
Expectations: After their top four finish in 2018, Waterford levelled off a little last year and mid-table looks to be the expectation again this season. While they have lost some talent in the likes of Shane Duggan, Zack Elbouzedi and Georgie Poynton, they should have more than enough to avoid a relegation battle as veteran goalscorer Graham Cummins comes in while highly rated Ireland under-21 international Tyreke Wilson looks to be a great acquisition after he returned from Manchester City.
Predicted league table
1. Shamrock Rovers
3. Derry City
4. St Patrick's Athletic
8. Cork City
9. Sligo Rovers
10. Finn Harps