League of Ireland Premier Division Preview

Wed, Jan 15 2020

Dundalk celebrate winning the 2019 Premier Division Credit: Paul Dolan (ETPhotos)

Whisper it quietly, the return of the Premier Division is now just around the corner. The longest of long off-seasons is almost at an end – and we are just weeks away from the return of play.  

Bohemians

Star Men: Dan Mandroiu, James Talbot, Dinny Corcoran

Key Player: Dan Casey

Signing of The Season: Glen McAuley

One to Watch: Andy Lyons

By far the youngest team in the league, Bohs under the guidance of Keith Long and Trevor Croly will be praying for a more injury-free run this season in order to express their side’s full potential.

At the back, Ireland U21 defender Darragh Leahy has been well replaced by the returning Dan Casey, while raiding fullbacks Andy Lyons (19) and Paddy Kirk (20) should continue to offer a rapid outlet down either flank.

Goals were an issue last campaign in the absence of injured talisman Dinny Corcoran but the promising signing of 19 year-old Liverpool academy graduate Glen McAuley should prevent a repeat episode this time out.

Cork City

Star Men: Gearoid Morrissey, Dylan McGlade, Daire O’Connor

Key Player: Cian Coleman

Signing of The Season: Cory Galvin

One to Watch: Daire O’Connor

The appointment of Neale Fenn as Cork boss at the tail-end of last season did little to improve the insipid performances at Turner’s Cross in 2019 and another tricky year could well lie ahead.

Losing star names such as Karl Sheppard (Shels), Conor McCormack (Derry), Kevin O’Connor, Tadhg Ryan (both Waterford) and Conor McCarthy (St Mirren) has come as another blow to the 2017 champions.

While the replacements coming in have Premier Division experience, they are unlikely to turn around City’s fortunes to any great extent.

Derry City 

Star Men: Conor Clifford, Conor McCormack, Walter Figueroa 

Key Player: Ally Gilchrist

Signing of The Season: Conor Clifford

One to Watch: Ciaron Harkin

Derry have increased their budget with the aim of challenging the top two this season and the addition of two of the league’s finest play-makers Conor Clifford and Conor McCormack to an already impressive midfield means the good times may well return to the Brandywell in 2020.

The goals of Sheffield United’s David Parkhouse up front will be difficult to replace but Walter Figueira’s arrival from Waterford should go some way towards staking their claim for European football. 

Dundalk

Star Men: Michael Duffy, Sean Gannon, Patrick Hoban

Key Player: Chris Shields

Signing of the Season: Will Patching

One to Watch: Georgie Kelly

Most talent, most experience, best coached. Despite losing the versatile attacking talent of Jamie McGrath over the Winter, Dundalk look all but braced to pick up from where they left off last season.

Boasting a wide-choice of quality defenders, an all-action midfield and the ever-prolific Hobanator up top, it would be unwise to bet against the Louth men.

How far Vinny Perth’s men can go in Europe with new signings Will Patching, Darragh Leahy and Greg Sloggett now at their disposal, will in truth, be the most interesting aspect of their season.

Finn Harps

Star Men: David Webster, Mark Timlin, Sam Todd

Key Player: David Webster

Signing of The Season: David Webster

One to Watch: Sam Todd

While Ollie Horgan’s Harps have battled extremely well to avoid the drop in past seasons, it now looks like the Donegal men’s time is done in the Premier Division as they come into the 2020 season with the bare-bones of a squad and little quality in comparison to the other ever-improving sides in the competition.

Unless a host of last minute signings are announced before February 15th’s kick off it will take something truly spectacular for this Finn Harps side to survive.

Shamrock Rovers

Star Men: Jack Byrne, Roberto Lopes, Aaron McEneff

Key Player: Ronan Finn

Signing of The Season: Rhys Marshall

One to Watch: Brandon Kavanagh (CAM, 19)

Having blown their early but sizable lead at the summit of the table last season, we expect Stephen Bradley’s Hoops to bring an improved level of consistency this time out.

2019’s attractive football spearheaded by Ireland star Jack Byrne is sure to be central to Rovers plans once more but converting possession into chances will be paramount to the Tallaght men.

Perhaps the added dimension brought by new signing Rhys Marshall down the right flank could do just the trick.

Shelbourne

Star Men: Ciaran Kilduff, Karl Sheppard, Gary Deegan

Key Player: Alex O’Hanlon

Signing of The Season: Karl Sheppard

One to Watch: Jaze Kabia

One thing is for sure – this assembly of battle-hardened League of Ireland veterans will be tough to beat.

Some of the league’s most decorated players have committed to the Shells for 2020 in their quest to cement themselves as Premier Division regulars again after a seven year absence.

An organised back four shielded by 32 year-old League Two leader Gary Deegan and a strike partnership of Kilduff and Sheppard will not give opposing defences a moment’s peace.

However, how much the attacking spark of former St Kevin’s and Liverpool winger Alex O’Hanlon can influence games will have the biggest say of all on how far Ian Morris’ warriors can climb the league table.

Sligo Rovers

Star Men: Ed McGinty, Garry Buckley, John Mahon

Key Player: Ronan Murray

Signing of the Season: Garry Buckley

One to Watch: Ed McGinty

Liam Buckley’s men come into 2020 with limited resources, but with a street-wise, committed group of players and a very promising young goalkeeper in Ed McGinty on their side, don’t be surprised if the Bit O’Red manage to grind their way out of trouble to the expense of Waterford or Shelbourne.

While Sligo were often forced into sitting back and defending last season, it is understood their manager has tried to instil a creative philosophy since his arrival out West.

And, it wouldn’t be a shock if attacking players like Garry Buckley and Ronan Murray benefited from his coaching by chipping with a handful of goals in the new season.

St Patrick’s Athletic

Star Men: Robbie Benson, Chris Forrester, Simon Madden

Key Player: Chris Forrester

Signing of the Season: Robbie Benson

One to Watch: Jamie Lennon

It is all change at Richmond Park, but all indications suggest it will be for the best.

League of Ireland legend Stephen O’Donnell is the man at the helm for 2020 and the former Dundalk captain’s vision for positive passing football has led to the signing of several technical footballers over the winter months.

Current and former Ireland under-21 internationals Conor Kearns (20), Ronan Hale (21), Rory Feely (23) and Shane Griffin (25) are certain to provide an injection of positivity to proceedings.

But it is the star signing of Robbie Benson from champions Dundalk that could be the biggest difference maker.

Waterford

Star Men: Kevin O’Connor, Tadhg Ryan, Tom Holland

Key Player: Sam Bone

Signing of the Season: Tadhg Ryan

One to Watch: Will Fitzgerald

The loss of Zack Elbouzedi, Shane Duggan, Walter Figueroa, Cory Galvin and Rory Feely amongst others would hurt anyone but Waterford look to have pulled it together just in time for the new season.

The signings of Michael O’Connor (Linfield) as well as Cork City stars Tadhg Ryan (ex-Huddersfield) and Kevin O’Connor (ex-Preston North End) have added some much-needed quality to the Blues 2020 options.

They may yet need to add some further reinforcements before the season kicks off in the second week of February, but things are no longer looking so bleak for the Munster men.