Brian Gartland, Dundalk FC, and Stephen Rice, Longford Town, both teams will play each other on the opening day of the 2015 SSE Airtricity league season.
Ahead of the Airtricity League of Ireland season openers this weekend Gareth Maher profiles each of the teams battling for Premier Division glory.
There was little that the Gypsies could do to keep hold of Owen Heary once Sligo Rovers came calling, although his exit presents an opportunity for Keith Long to spark a new era at the club. If his signings are anything to go by, then exciting times are ahead.
If Bohs are to be successful this season, then they simply must be better at Dalymount Park. And for that to happen, they need to score plenty of goals. That’s where Dean Kelly comes in. Along with veteran Jason Byrne, he will relied upon to lead the team from the front.
Manager: Keith Long
Key Player: Dean Kelly
One To Watch: Robbie Duggan
Last Season: 7th
Key Transfers In: Derek Prendergast, Dylan Hayes, Kealon Dillon, James O’Brien (Athlone Town), Lorcan Fitzgerald (St Patrick’s Athletic), Robbie Duggan (Peterborough United), Robbie Creevy (UCD), Dave Mulcahy (Cork City), Adam Wixted (Drogheda United), Dean Kelly (Shamrock Rovers), Marc Griffin (Dundalk)
Key Transfers Out: Aidan Price (Limerick), Jack Memery, Ryan McEvoy (Bray Wanderers), Eoin Wearen, Kevin Devaney, Steven Beattie, Dinny Corcoran (Sligo Rovers), Craig Walsh (Shelbourne)
The winds of change most definitely swept in from the seaside into the Carlisle Grounds during the off-season, but having Alan Mathews at the helm should ensure that they remain grounded. In fact, he could be the reason why Bray turns some heads this year.
Expect them to be a lot tighter at the back – last season’s tally of 61 goals conceded cannot be repeated – with Alan McNally providing a cool head. While they lack a proven finisher in the striking department, there is an abundance of creativity to call on in midfield and they will be crucial.
Manager: Alan Mathews
Key Player: Ryan McEvoy
One To Watch: Daniel O’Reilly
Last Season: 11th
Key Transfers In: Jack Memery, Ryan McEvoy (Bohemians), Hugh Douglas (UCD), Alan McNally, Peter McGlynn (Drogheda United), Daniel O’Reilly (Bishop’s Stortford), Peter Durrad (St Patrick’s Athletic), Chris Lyons, Emeka Onwubiko (Shamrock Rovers B)
Key Transfers Out: Rob Maloney, Shane O’Neill (Cabinteely), David Webster (Shamrock Rovers), Jake Kelly (Dundalk), Stephen Hurley (Waterford United), Philip Hughes (Shelbourne)
Pipped on the last day of the season, Cork will be aiming to go one better this time. Yet, the average age of their team has gone up, despite some noteworthy signings in Alan Bennett and Liam Miller, and that is something that manager John Caulfield must keep in mind over a long season.
There is still plenty of power – and undoubted class – available to Cork in each position, but can they repeat the heroics of last year? Bound to be strong again at home, a lot will depend on whether their away form matches up to that of their rivals. Oh, and if Karl Sheppard is their new striking sensation.
Manager: John Caulfield
Key Player: Liam Miller
One To Watch: Rob Lehane
Last Season: 2nd
Key Transfers In: Alan Smith (Rangers), Gavan Holohan (Drogheda United), Alan Bennett (AFC Wimbledon), Liam Miller (Melbourne City), Kieran Djilali (Limerick), Karl Sheppard (Shamrock Rovers)
Key Transfers Out: Gearoid Morrissey (Cambridge United), Ian Turner (Limerick), Dave Mulcahy (Bohemians), David O’Leary (Galway United), Cillian Morrison (Derry City)
Even though they have lost two battling midfielders in Barry Molloy and Danny Ventre, this could be a transformative year for the Candystripes. Why? Because it allows manager Peter Hutton to loosen the shackles a little and give his young attackers more licence to roam.
Apart from goalkeeper Ger Doherty and striker Anthony Elding, every member of their squad is below 30 years of age. So youth will be a distinguishing factor for a team that could be really exciting to watch when moving forward, but also quite vulnerable to being caught on the counter attack.
Manager: Peter Hutton
Key Player: Ryan McBride
One To Watch: Joshua Daniels
Last Season: 8th
Key Transfers In: Shaun Patton (Finn Harps), Seanan Clucas (Linfield), Cillian Morrison (Cork City), Anthony Elding (Ballinamallard United)
Key Transfers Out: Ciaran Gallagher, Raymond Foy, Nathan Boyle (Finn Harps), Danny Ventre (Telford United), Barry Molloy (Crusaders), Michael Duffy (Celtic), Rory Patterson (Cockburn City)
Derry City's Peter Hutton.
There is no point in sugarcoating it; this season is all about survival. Sure, they have a manager (John McDonnell) and core of players (Alan Byrne, Sean Brennan, Michael Daly, Stephen Maher, Daryl Kavanagh) who know the league, but it will still be a massive challenge for them.
The addition of Kavanagh is a curious one because the Tipperary native has the ability to light up games. And, interestingly, the tricky attacker played his best football when under the guidance of Drogheda’s assistant Pete Mahon at St Patrick’s Athletic. The jury is also out on whether midfielder Sean Thornton will shine or not.
Manager: John McDonnell
Key Player: Sean Brennan
One To Watch: Michael Scott
Last Season: 9th
Key Transfers In: Alan Byrne, Sean Brennan, Mark Hughes (Athlone Town), Neil Yadolahi (Banants FC), Michael Scott, Niall Flynn (Malahide United), Sean Thornton (Bala Town), Jason Marks (Kilbarrack United), Tiarnan Mulvenna (Glenavon), Daryl Kavanagh (Sligo Rovers)
Key Transfers Out: Dave Ryan, Paul Andrews, Daire Doyle (Shelbourne), Alan McNally, Peter McGlynn (Bray Wanderers), Shane Grimes (Dundalk), Gavan Holohan (Cork City), Gavin Brennan (Shamrock Rovers), Adam Wixted (Bohemians), Declan O’Brien (Glenavon), Gary O’Neill (Retired)
Always seeking to take his team that step further, Stephen Kenny has made two shrewd signings in goalkeeper Gary Rogers and midfielder Ronan Finn. Both are upgrades in their respective positions and bring a new energy to this title-winning squad.
However, the loss of 20-goal striker Patrick Hoban cannot be underestimated. He was superb off the ball, in his link-up play, and, most importantly, at scoring. So the pressure to fill his boots rests with Kurtis Byrne and David McMillan, which may be asking too much. If they sign another proven frontman, then a title defence looks more achievable.
Manager: Stephen Kenny
Key Player: Ronan Finn
One To Watch: George Poynton
Last Season: 1st
Key Transfers In: Gary Rogers (Sligo Rovers), Paddy Barrett (Galway United), Shane Grimes (Drogheda United), Ronan Finn (Shamrock Rovers), Jake Kelly (Bray Wanderers)
Key Transfers Out: Peter Cherrie (Cliftonville), Simon Kelly (Glenavon), Mark Rossiter (Longford Town), Keith Ward (Sligo Rovers), Ruaidhri Higgins (Coleraine), Donal McDermott (Salford City), Marc Griffin (Bohemians), Patrick Hoban (Oxford United)
One of the big advantages that Galway has on their return to the top flight is continuity. They have effectively maintained last season’s promotion-clinching roster and that should help them to settle quickly and bypass the usual early-season nerves that newcomers suffer from.
It was inevitable that talented attacker Ryan Manning would move to England, so his loss isn’t that huge. It simply means that more will be expected from the likes of Ryan Connolly, Jason Molloy, and Enda Curran. Just behind them, David O’Leary should operate as the midfield enforcer following a largely forgettable spell with Cork.
Manager: Tommy Dunne
Key Player: David O’Leary
One To Watch: Jake Keegan
Last Season: Promoted
Key Transfers In: Conor Winn (Finn Harps), Sam Oji (Limerick), David O’Leary (Cork City), Antaine O’Laoi (Salthill Devon), Andy O’Donnell (Cobh Ramblers), Killian Cantwell (Wexford Youths)
Key Transfers Out: Paddy Barrett (Dundalk), Ryan Manning (QPR), Vinny Faherty (Limerick)
In one sense, there is a lot for Blues fans to be worried about with Market’s Field not yet ready and chairman Pat O’Sullivan talking of stringent times. But in another, they have reshaped their squad with a group of young, exciting players.
Where, though, will the goals come from? That is surely the most pressing issue because the burden to replace Rory Gaffney (who netted 14 league goals) looks likely to land on Vinny Faherty, Val Feeney, and Darragh Rainsford. If they struggle to cope with that then Limerick are likely to be scrapping to stay in the division.
Manager: Martin Russell
Key Player: Paul O’Conor
One To Watch: Conor O’Donnell
Last Season: 6th
Key Transfers In: Conor O’Donnell, Dean Clarke (UCD), Sean Harding (Waitakere United), Aidan Price (Limerick), Ian Turner (Cork City), Paul O’Conor (Sligo Rovers), Sean Russell (Shelbourne), Vinny Faherty (Galway United)
Key Transfers Out: Barry Ryan (Retired), Shane Cusack, Garbhan Coughlan (Athlone Town), Stephen Folan (Sligo Rovers), Sam Oji (Galway United), Michael Leahy (UCD), Kieran Djilali (Cork City) Lee Lynch (Hamilton), Rory Gaffney (Cambridge United)
Rewarded for sticking with long-serving manager Tony Cousins and convincing experienced players like Stephen Rice and Pat Sullivan to drop down to the First Division, Longford are now back amongst the big boys – and they look primed to stay there.
By bringing in multiple league winners (Conor Powell, Mark Rossiter), a potential star winger (Ayman Ben Mohamed), and a steady goalkeeper (Paul Skinner), the Midland outfit have added to their already strong group. All eyes, though, will be on striker David O’Sullivan to see if his goalscoring exploits can be elevated up to the Premier level.
Manager: Tony Cousins
Key Player: Stephen Rice
One To Watch: Ayman Ben Mohamed
Last Season: First Division Winners
Key Transfers In: Paul Skinner (Athlone Town), Kaleem Simon, Ayman Ben Mohamed (UCD), Mark Rossiter (Dundalk), Conor Powell (SK Vard Haugesund)
Key Transfers Out: Chris Bennion (Retired), Ger Pender (Cabinteely)
Frustration has been the over-riding theme amongst Hoops supporters in the last few years, although this should be, finally, the campaign that lifts their spirits back up. Why? Simply put: they have the wily Pat Fenlon in charge.
If Fenlon – one of the league’s greatest ever managers – is their trump card, then the big hitters come in the shape of Conor Kenna, Patrick Cregg, Keith Fahey, and Danny North. As ever, they boast a star-studded panel but finding that right system will ultimately dictate whether they can go all the way and bring the league trophy back to Tallaght.
Manager: Pat Fenlon
Key Player: Patrick Cregg
One To Watch: Michael Drennan
Last Season: 4th
Key Transfers In: David Webster (Bray Wanderers), Tim Clancy (St Johnstone), Max Blanchard (Plymouth Argyle), Brandon Miele (Bluebell United), Keith Fahey (St Patrick’s Athletic), Gavin Brennan (Drogheda United), Danny North (Sligo Rovers), Michael Drennan (Aston Villa), Gareth McCaffrey (Hibernian)
Key Transfers Out: Jason McGuinness, Ciaran Kilduff (St Patrick’s Athletic), Robert Bayly (Cliftonville), Ronan Finn (Dundalk), Karl Sheppard (Cork City), Dean Kelly (Bohemians), Eamon Zayed (Sabah FA)
Sligo Rovers manager Owen Heary with Shamrock Rovers manager Pat Fenlon, right, during the launch of the SSE Airtricity League.
There may still be a bitter taste for some over how Ian Baraclough and Joseph Ndo both left the club midway through last season, but Sligo feel that this season represents a whole new chapter with new boss Owen Heary turning the pages for them.
It was clever by the Bohemians legend to bring four players with him when moving to the west coast, while the additions of Stephen Folan and Keith Ward were also good pieces of business. However, the arrivals who could have the biggest impact are Estonia international Sander Puri and ex-Chelsea trainee Morton Nielsen.
Manager: Owen Heary
Key Player: Sander Puri
One To Watch: Jake Dykes
Last Season: 5th
Key Transfers In: Ryan Coulter (Athlone Town), Stephen Folan (Limerick), Eoin Wearen, Kevin Devaney, Steven Beattie, Dinny Corcoran (Bohemians), Keith Ward (Dundalk), Morton Nielsen (FC Rot-Weiss Erfurt)
Key Transfers Out: Gary Rogers (Dundalk), Seamus Conneely (Accrington Stanley), Evan McMillan (UCD), Kalen Spillane (Carrigaline AFC), Paul O’Conor (Limerick), Joseph Ndo (Retired), Danny North (Shamrock Rovers)
St Patrick's Athletic
Whisper it softly, but the departure of Keith Fahey to rivals Shamrock Rovers could be a blessing in disguise for the Super Saints. No longer are they under pressure to accommodate the midfielder and that means they should have a better balance to their line-up.
Power and height have been added in the shape of Jason McGuinness and Ciaran Kilduff – which makes them even more of a threat at set-pieces – but the real coup was convincing last season’ stop scorer Christy Fagan to turn down a move to Chesterfield to remain in Inchicore. Expect a title challenge.
Manager: Liam Buckley
Key Player: Christy Fagan
One To Watch: Lee Desmond
Last Season: 3rd
Key Transfers In: Jason McGuinness, Ciaran Kilduff (Shamrock Rovers), Lee Desmond (Shelbourne), Conor O'Malley (Shamrock Rovers B)
Key Transfers Out: Ken Oman (Portadown), Daniel Campbell (Cabinteely), Stephen Dunne, Thomas Mulroney, Marco Chindea (Athlone Town), Lorcan Fitzgerald (Bohemians), Peter Durrad (Bray Wanderers), Keith Fahey (Shamrock Rovers)