SSE Airtricity League preview

SSE Airtricity League preview

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.

Bohemians

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

Prediction: 6th

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)

Bray Wanderers

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

Prediction: 8th

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)

Cork City

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.

SSE Airtricity League preview

Liam Miller

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

Prediction: 4th

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)

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

Prediction: 7th

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)

SSE Airtricity League preview

Derry City's Peter Hutton.

Drogheda United

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

Prediction: 10th

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)

Dundalk

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

Prediction: 3rd

Key Transfers In: Gary Rogers (Sligo Rovers), Paddy Barrett (Galway United), Shane Grimes (Drogheda United), Ronan Finn (Shamrock Rovers), Jake Kelly (Bray Wanderers)

SSE Airtricity League preview

Ronan Finn

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)

Galway 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

Prediction: 11th

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)

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

Prediction: 12th

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)

Longford Town

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

Prediction: 9th

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)

Shamrock Rovers

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

Prediction: 1st

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)

SSE Airtricity League preview

Sligo Rovers manager Owen Heary with Shamrock Rovers manager Pat Fenlon, right, during the launch of the SSE Airtricity League.

Sligo Rovers

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

Prediction: 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

Prediction: 2nd

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)

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