Following the return of the League of Ireland last weekend, Chris Coady picks 10 things to look out for in the Premier Division this season.
Having just fallen short of an historic domestic treble last term, Dundalk are out to do the treble this time round.
Vinny Perth has made a couple of tweaks to the squad ahead of the 2020 season, with players coming in and out. They do say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but a bit of fresh competition for the squad will be beneficial for the Lilywhites in their bid for a clean sweep of titles and to maintain their dominance in Irish football.
Jamie McGrath will be missed, however, but I can’t see Dundalk being stopped this season after a decent home win over Derry to start the defense of their title.
Tour de Europe
With Dundalk bringing Champions League football back to Oriel Park for another season, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemian FC and Derry City all had to settle for a place in Europe’s second tier competition.
They all go again as the race starts again for the Irish teams to stake a claim in Europe.
Will someone pip Dundalk to the title and have Champions League football to look forward to in 2021?
Assuming Cork return to form this time round, I think we could see the best race for Europe in quite a while.
It’s been a slow start for Bohs, Cork City and Derry but it’s very early days yet.
Nothing beats a Dublin derby in Irish football, and we were treated to the greatest rivalry in Irish football last week when Rovers make the short trip across town to Dalymount Park.
Unfortunately, the hotly-anticipated clash was marred by Storm Dennis, causing RTÉ to cancel live coverage of the game and the conditions making the game very tough for both sides.
A last minute goal from the visitors earned them all three points, but in truth, a game as good as Bohs v Rovers should’ve been called off and rescheduled for another day.
Meanwhile, the north-west derby saw Finn Harps welcome Sligo Rovers to Ballybofey, where the Donegal side picked up the win in another sole-goal affair.
This win gives the Harps a great boost as they can try pick up points early on to avoid another unwelcome relegation play-off like last season, or worse, automatic relegation.
WAT do we have to do?
After losing a massive 17 matches last season, Waterford have had a long winter break to reflect on what has had to go down as a disastrous season, with a bottom half finish in the table, and they’ll be hoping to recover the form that saw them claim a top four finish in 2018.
They open the campaign having to face three Dublin opponents, but have started spectacularly after putting St. Patrick’s Athletic to the sword away from home, and will have to make the RSC a real ring of fire to come to as Bohs and Rovers visit in weeks two and three respectively.
The journey to the Aviva starts again for the clubs of Ireland and the reigning champions Shamrock Rovers will have a massive say in who takes their crown as Irish heavyweights, and they themselves surely won’t be too far away from sealing a second successive trophy.
Dundalk, however, will have set their stall out for revenge and a ‘cupset’ can arrive around any corner.
A mighty fall from champions to relegation fighters saw John Caulfield leave the helm and leave Turner’s Cross in tatters.
It didn’t get much better for Cork as they avoided the relegation play-off spot by a single spot.
A dream start some would say as the newly promoted Shelbourne come to the Cross, but it wasn’t to be as they failed break down a stubborn Shels and lost 1-0 yet again.
Beat the Drop
With UCD dropping down to the second tier of Irish football with a real whimper last season, their successors in the league Shelbourne will surely give a better fight of survival as Premier Division status is there to be maintained for the 2021 season.
I fancy the Dubliners to avoid automatic relegation but they may find themselves playing off in October to beat the drop.
Finn Harps will be fancied to go down but with the signing of Barry McNamee, he alone may be enough to allow them avoid being automatically demoted.
Both have started with wins so it’s as you were before the first games of the season. Level pegging.
A Shel-shock in store?
It was close, it was very close, it was nearly too close, but Shels bettered the rest last season to regain Premier Division status.
With Finn Harps winning their promotion/relegation play-off, it left Shels the lone side from the First Division in the top tier this season.
Amazingly, a third of their games will be Dublin derbies and the passion going into a derby can cause fireworks and upsets.
I think having a derby so often will keep the players fresh and hungry for wins, something a team needs for survival, and if they can keep up the performance levels which saw them fend off Cork City they should have more than enough to avoid relegation.
Kings of Dublin
With a remarkable four teams from the capital in the Premier Division this season, it will be a season full of derbies from Dublin, and with the first Dublin derby being ruined by storm Dennis, it can really only get better as the weather (hopefully) improves.
Expect fireworks, tempers flaring and cards, cards, cards as the title of best team in Dublin is there to be stripped off Shamrock Rovers after they achieved the highest league standing last time out, and took home the FAI Cup.
Or can the Rovers once again boast the status of Dublin’s best team as they target the title?
We Want More
Hopefully we see more League of Ireland action on our TV screens this season, as Niall Quinn made big steps quickly when he met up with some Virgin Media TV representatives to discuss the possibility of getting more air time on our matches than just half an hour on a Monday evening to cover two whole divisions!
This is something we should all be anticipating and keeping a closer eye on proceeding as the league deserves more TV time for the players and the fans.