Throughout pre-season the manager has been keen to emphasise that last year is gone - Mick Leahy

Fri, Mar 02 2018

Mich Leahy in action for Sligo against Bohemians. Credit: Eddie Lennon

After spells away at Limerick and Sligo Rovers, defender Mick Leahy is more than happy to have returned to Dublin with his new club St Patrick’s Athletic.

And he feels the Saints are primed for a much-improved run this season after their brush with relegation last term.

The 28-year-old is yet to feature this season after a sprained ankle meant he was ruled out of his sides recent fixtures against Bray Wanderers and Waterford, after featuring on the bench for Pat's 3-2 home loss to Cork City on opening night.

“It's been a frustrating start to the season for me personally,” he admitted.

“After working hard in preseason, I sprained my ankle in training the first weekend of the season, so I've been out with that for the last ten days and missed the double last weekend against Bray and Waterford.

“Rehab is going well so hopefully I'll be back training next week and all going well, I should be back in the squad for the Bohs game.

“Ultimately everyone wants to play every week.

“There are a lot of games coming up in March and April this season, including another couple of double weekends this month, so I'm sure there will be rotation and the majority of the squad will see game-time.

“It's up to you to train hard and then perform well to stay in the starting XI when your opportunity comes.”

The results achieved by Liam Buckley’s crew thus far have not set the world alight, with just three points from their opening three games – that result coming courtesy of a sole victory away in the Carlisle Grounds – but Leahy says the club is looking forward optimistically after encouraging performances both in training, and in their opening few games.

“It's great being back home in Dublin, close to my friends and family,” Leahy told extratime.ie.

“In the LOI if you want to be a full-time professional, sometimes you have to be prepared to move around the country. I've been in Limerick and Sligo for 3 of the last 4 years so I'm enjoying being back home again.

“The vibe around the club is good. Throughout pre-season the manager has been keen to emphasise that last year is gone. This year is a new group with a lot of new players so I don't think last year will impact on us.

“I've been impressed with the standard in training. We've got a good mix of experience and youth in the squad.

“Obviously I knew some of the lads already from playing with or against them over the years, but some of the younger lads who I wouldn't have seen much of before, like Markey, Lennon, Doona, have been impressive too and they'll make an impact this year.

“We're disappointed not to have taken more points so far. We've played well in parts of all three games, particularly the first two against Cork and Bray.

“Having come back from two down against Cork on opening night, we were disappointed not to go on and win that game - albeit they were a man down, we outplayed them, created a few chances that we didn't take and then been punished for a lapse in concentration defensively near the end.

“They're the fine margins that lead to winning and losing games so we need to learn from them and improve going forward. It's a probably a cliché, but if we can be a bit more ruthless in both boxes, I think we'll have a successful season.”

The Inchicore club's sole success thus far this season came in a 2-1 win away in Wicklow, when goals from Conan Byrne and Christy Fagan gave them the win against Bray.

After picking up their first win of the campaign against Bray, who were then thrashed the following Monday losing 6-0 to Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght, while Leahy's former club Limerick endured a humiliating 8-0 loss to Dundalk.

With the large financial disparity between the likes of the Lilywhites and the openly-struggling Shannonsiders, fears of a two-tier league and a lack of competitiveness have begun to creep in to the minds of fans.

But Leahy doesn't share in those fears as he explains: “Inequality in the league is nothing new.

“The league will always have teams that are stronger than others.

“As we've seen before, clubs will have spells at the top but inevitably other clubs will replace them. A decade ago it was Bohs, then Rovers, and at the moment it's Cork and Dundalk.

“The double game weekends do put more strain on the clubs with part-time or smaller squads, with less time for recovery or rotation, so in those instances you might see some added disparity but I don't think results like that [the heavy defeats for Bray and Limerick] will be a regular occurrence this year.

“In my opinion, the best way for the League to progress is for every club in the league, in the Premier Division at least, to be full-time.

“Obviously there's financial implications to enabling that but it should be something that is worked toward. That in itself won't solve inequality between teams. The teams with the biggest budgets will generally attract the best players and become the most successful anyway, even with 10 professional teams.”

Greater management of investment, especially from the top down, is what is key to this potential growth, Leahy claims.

“Investment in clubs and in the league is definitely a good thing but it's up to the governing body, whether that is the FAI or another body in the future, to govern the league and put proper safeguards in place,” he noted.

“The temptation will always be there to put investment straight into wages and seek immediate success like we've seen before. From a player's perspective, players will always look to get the best deal for themselves financially and clubs competing for the top players will drive wages up.

“But the governing body must be proactive to ensure that, at least some of this investment, is put into sustainable areas, like by improving infrastructure and youth development.

“Every Premier Division club in the country should have their own training ground and a relatively modernised stadium, which is not the case currently.”

The Saints next game is a big Dublin Derby clash away to Bohemians on March 9th – already a crucial game so early on in the race for Europe this season.

“It will be difficult game,” Leahy admits.

“They had a good win at Dalymount on opening night.

“Whether they say it publicly or not, I'm sure Bohs are looking at breaking into the top 4 this season and qualifying for Europe.

“We're aiming to do the same so we'll go there looking to get the three points. If we play well, with the quality we've got in the team, we'll create chances and we'll win the game.”