Waterford welcome Shamrock Rovers to the RSC for the opening night of the new League of Ireland season (kick off 7.45pm). The two teams battled it out for third spot in the league last year with Waterford dropping away in the final stages of the season to finish what was still a very credidble fourth position – earning them a place in Europe.
Neither manager will be in the dugout for this fixture as both Alan Reynolds and Stephen Bradley begin the season with two match suspensions. The Blues boss has made some shrewd acquisition for his squad with Damien Delaney, JJ Lunney, Kevin Lynch, Zack Elbouzedi and Shane Duggan coming in on permanent moves.
Finnish under-21 goalkeeper Hugo Keto and strikers Scott Twine and Aaron Drinan have joined the Blues on loan. The club are still waiting on international clearnance for those loan signings.
“Everyone is looking forward to getting started,” said Alan Reynolds speaking to his club’s website ahead of Friday’s game. “It’s been a long off season so it’s great that we can now focus on competitive action.
“Stephen [Bradley] has strengthened really well so we know that this will be a very difficult game. The clubs played out some great games last season so let’s hope for something similar again.
“On the field, we’ve been happy with our pre-season; we’ve played some good First Division sides as well as local side Hibs and we’ve built from game to game, culminating in last Friday’s win over Shelbourne. It’s important in these games to build up fitness and give lads a chance to show what they can do on the pitch and that’s what we’ve done.
"We've got a few new lads in this week too so we're hopeful some might be available for Friday. It’s going to be another tough season, we’re under no illusions but we're here again to compete with the best in the league this season.”
The two matches the Hoops played in the RSC last season very much shaped the outcome of the season for Rovers.
On their first visit towards the end of March, the Hoops had the chance to go top of the table only to lose the game following a controversial early red card and also lost Trevor Clarke due to injury for the remainder of the season.
When Rovers returned in July, Alan Mannus came in for the injured Gaving Bazunu to make his first start for the Hoops and earned a clean sheet in the 1-0 win – their fifth clean sheet in a row in the league.
That would be Roveres fifth victory in a run of what would be nine league wins and one draw from 11 league matches. That form allowed them eventually cement their third spot in the league.
Bradley has bolstered his squad just ahead of the league opener with the addition of striker Orhan Vojic and goalkeeper Leon Pohls this week.
“It's good that Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff have been in since the first day so they've settled in really quickly. Orhan Vojic and Leon Pohls have been with us only the last 8-10 days but the new players have had a lot of time around the group to get to know each other.
“It's great to have Trevor Clarke back too, you'd forget that he was missing for all of last year. He's going to be an important player for us this season.
“I think Waterford will be up there again. They've invested again in the squad so it's going to be a really tough game like it was last year but it's one we're looking forward to. There was a lot of action in both of our games down there last year and tomorrow will be no different. It'll be two good teams looking to go and win the game.
“The first game of the season are always special nights and both teams will be up for it. You always want to win games, the fact that it's the first one of course we want to win it but we just have to concentrate on our jobs.
“The off season is too long and the players have worked hard since the start of December. They just want to go and get on the pitch and play for three points.”
Referee: Graham Kelly
Rovers just had the upper hand in the encounters last season between the two sides winning two (1-0 in the RSC and 3-1 in Tallaght in the final home game of the season), drawing 1-1 at home and losing 2-1 in the RSC.
Graham Burke, who scored for Rovers against Waterford in March, was Rovers’ top league goalscorer with 13 goals despite leaving for Preston North End in the summer transfer window. Dan Carr also hit double figures, scoring ten league goals and one in the Europa League.
Courtney Duffus top scored for the Blues with ten goals in the league.
Waterford 23/10; Draw 11/5; Shamrock Rovers 11/10.
Waterford 1 – 1 Shamrock Rovers
Injured: Izzy Akinade, JJ Lunney
Doubtful: Bastien Hery (injured), Hugo Keto, Scott Twine and Aaron Drinan (all awaiting international clearance)
Injured: Sean Boyd
Doubtful: Orhan Vojic, Leon Pohls (awaiting international clearance)
Dundalk's Dungeons and Dragons, the handsome men of League of Ireland football and the secret cross border cup competition are all part of this week's podcast - our SSE Airtricity League Launch Special @ETSportscast https://t.co/FCLc3SGg4a— Macdara Ferris (@macdarabueller) February 13, 2019