League of Ireland: Gentlemen, start your engines...

Off go the contenders tonight in the League of Ireland, with the Premier Division title race considered the most open for a number of years.

League of Ireland: Gentlemen, start your engines...

Here, John Fallon assesses each of the protagonists in the slimmed down 10-team division, including a few nuggets that did, or maybe didn’t, occur since the end of last season.


Manager: Keith Long.

Fake news that sounds true: Given the club’s emphasis on attracting the hipster element to Dalymount Park before the bulldozers move in, Paul Weller will be starting a monthly residency in the bar before tonight’s derby against Shamrock Rovers.

True news that sounds false: Manager Keith Long skipped out of his day-job during his lunch-hour to attend a couple of recent club media engagements. Bohs are one of only two part-time outfits in the top-flight.

Will be badly missed: Fuad Sule: The barnstorming midfielder was central to the Gypsies overachieving last season but even the lure of Barnet, trying to avoid dropping out of the Football League, proved too tempting.

The boy can do good: Dylan Watts: Back from Leicester City, on loan for now, a home environment should facilitate the best being extracted from of the young attacker.

Last season: 5th.

Prediction: 7th. Until their ground is redeveloped and revenue streams improve, Long will be operating on a shoestring budget.

They’ll be battling at the lower end.


Manager: Dave Mackey.

Fake news that sounds true: Such is the club’s eagerness to flog the Carlisle Grounds, no matches are allowed on Saturdays or Sundays to allow viewings by property speculators.

True news that sounds false: Despite their well-documented financial worries midway through last season, Bray paid all their players and didn’t break any FAI rules.

Will be badly missed: Keith Buckley: The powerhouse in midfield made it clear during last season’s upheaval that a return to Bohemians was his plan. He leaves a big cavity to fill.

The boy can do good: Daniel McKenna:A tidy midfielder who can play in defence, the Ireland U19 regular has been loaned from Wolves and should feature regularly.

Last season: 6th.

Prediction: 9th. Although Aaron Greene and Gary McCabe agreed to stay on, Bray are far weaker than last season and a campaign of attrition beckons.


Manager: John Caulfield.

Fake news that sounds true: After the proposed white-collar boxing match between Roddy Collins and John Delaney fell flat, another version between sparring partners John Caulfield and Stephen Kenny is being mooted.

True news that sounds false: Cork have the measure of their rivals Dundalk, extending their unbeaten run against the deposed champions to seven matches with Sunday’s victory in the President’s Cup final.

Will be badly missed: Sean Maguire: Despite operating the second half of their title-winning season with him, his firepower was missed. Finding a suitable replacement was an impossibility.

The boy can do good: Barry McNamee: Even a homebird needs a change of scene and the Derry native can blossom at Cork around superior players.

Last season: Champions.

Prediction: Champions. The retention of Karl Sheppard may prove definitive as Cork’s off-season recruits haven’t fully replenished the loss of Maguire, Kevin O’Connor, and Stephen Dooley.


Manager: Kenny Shiels.

Fake news that sounds true: Derry’s conveyor belt to other clubs was maintained in the off-season with Dean Jarvis joining Dundalk and Barry McNamee moving to the champions.

True news that sounds false: Shiels will be glad to be back in the revamped Brandywell for the visit of Dundalk on March 2 as he’s managed just 16 times at their home venue since taking charge two years ago.

Will be badly missed: Aaron Barry: The teak-tough defender was much in demand, eventually joining Cork City, and veteran Gavin Peers has a big task on his hands to deputise.

The boy can do good: Ronan Hale: Along with brother Rory, the pair have returned to Foyleside and Ronan’s goalscoring record from his time at Birmingham will be relied upon.

Last season: 4th.

Prediction: 6th. The perennial loss of talent continues to irk Shiels and even their homecoming might not be enough to retain the top-four tenancy they enjoyed in the last two seasons.


Manager: Stephen Kenny.

Fake news that sounds true: In homage to their new American owners, Dundalk will don a specially-designed stars and stripes jersey for their visit to St Pat’s on the week of 4 July.

True news that sounds false: The club has yet to ditch their artificial surface, replacing last year’s pitch but not with a full-grass version.

Will be badly missed: David McMillan: Dundalk’s top scorer for the past two seasons has joined the exodus by moving to St Johnstone.

The boy can do good: Ronan Murray: Pressure is on the Mayo man to fill the boots of McMillan, yet he was composed enough to play for Ipswich Town in the Championship under Roy Keane during his teens.

Last season: Runners-up.

Prediction: Runners-up. Kenny’s side are unlikely to make the same slow start as last season but his rebuilding job of the team which reached the Europa League in 2016 will take time.


Manager: Tommy Barrett.

Fake news that sounds true: The arrival Billy and Darren Dennehy at their third League of Ireland club after Cork City and St Patrick’s Athletic sees the brothers gradually get closer to the Kerry home they left as teens for England.

True news that sounds false: Benefactor Pat O’Sullivan has finally decided to cut his losses by selling up but finding a buyer is proving difficult.

Will be badly missed: Chiedozie Ogbene: Along with manager Neil McDonald and Barry Cotter, Limerick’s prize asset has moved to England.

The boy can do good: A match-winner on his day, Daniel Kearns is back in the league and time will tell whether he returns as a more consistent performer.

Last season: 7th.

Prediction: 10th. Pre-season has been nothing short of a disaster for the Shannonsiders, leaving them playing catch-up in appointing a boss to recruit players. They’re in for a slog.


Manager: Stephen Bradley.

Fake news that sounds true: A trend by Rovers of signing former Ireland international shows no sign of abating. Following Damien Duff, Stephen McPhail, and Joey O’Brien to Tallaght will be Anthony Stokes once his Greek project finishes in May.

True news that sounds false: The Hoops have faltered badly on the transfer front. Many of their targets, such as Dundalk’s Sean Gannon, stayed put, prompting the Lilywhites to scour the UK market.

Will be badly missed: Simon Madden: Some of Bradley’s decision have been bold but risky and ditching a fans’ favourite could easily backfire.

The boy can do good: Ethan Boyle: The Ireland U21 squad member excelled in a limited Finn Harps side and his versatility and age can lead a long spell with the Hoops.

Last season: 3rd.

Prediction: 4th. Instead of enhancing a squad into title contenders, Rovers appear no better than last year. They must be playing the long game.


Manager: Ger Lyttle.

Fake news that sounds true: Sligo have opted to become a hothouse to a suite of English clubs, Adam Morgan becoming the latest youngster to visit the Showgrounds for a loan stint from Liverpool.

True news that sounds false: For all the talk from the FAI of improved finances around the league, Sligo last week announced a loss for year-end 2017.

Will be badly missed: Vinny Faherty: The goalscoring stalwart helped the Bit O’Red to a late relegation escape and has upped sticks for a stint in Cyprus.

The boy can do good: Adam Wixted: A former Derby trainee, the winger was a rare bright spot for relegated Drogheda last season. He could flourish under Lyttle.

Last season: 9th.

Prediction: 8th. All the indications are Sligo will have a more settled side in Lyttle’s first full season but certain weaknesses will be punished by the stronger outfits.


Manager: Liam Buckley.

Fake news that sounds true: A flirtation with losing their top-flight status last season convinced investor Garrett Kelleher to avoid a repeat by splashing out on a number of expensive signings.

True news that sounds false: Rather than culling the man at the top for last season’s problems, Liam Buckley remains the longest-serving boss in the league, now heading into his sixth campaign season at the helm.

Will be badly missed: Jordi Balk: The Dutchman was a tower of strength at the back in their fight against the drop, only to return home for family reasons.

The boy can do good: James Doona: A man in a hurry, the trickster stunned Shamrock Rovers by departing and Buckley will give him plenty of games.

Last season: 8th.

Prediction: 3rd. Helped by scout Dave Campbell, Buckley has done the best business of any club, giving them every chance of mounting a challenge for Europe.


Manager: Alan Reynolds.

Fake news that sounds true: The club’s multimillionaire owner, former Norwich City striker Lee Power, will appear on the bench when required. Power volunteered his managerial advice not long after buying Swindon Town.

True news that sounds false: A switch to full-time operations since their promotion influenced some of their First Division-winning side to play elsewhere.

Will be badly missed: David McDaid: Along with Mark O’Sullivan, the Déise’s strikeforce is all-change and the goals of McDaid will need to be replaced.

The boy can do good: Izzy Akinade: Provided he stays fit, the former Bohemians striker can be a sensation at his new club.

He’ll get plenty of supply for the creative sparks around the team.

Last season: First Division champions.

Prediction: 5th. Both Dundalk captain Stephen O’Donnell and Derry chief Kenny Shiels have signalled the Blues out as dark horses and they’ll certainly be competitive at the right end of the table.

PaperTalk Extra League of Ireland Preview podcast: Cork City's siege mentality, Waterford contenders and Liam Miller's legacy

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