Tick tock tick tock, I’m sure you die hard League of Ireland fans have had that noise in your head ever since you left the Aviva Stadium in November after watching Sligo Rovers capture back to back FAI cups or ever since you drove home from watching your local team for the final time in the 2011 season.
Well the good news is the countdown is almost over, pre-season is well and truly in full swing and all those transfers you had been hoping for are almost done, the fixtures are out, your travel plans made for the season ahead and now you have a fantastic 2012 Airtricity League preview to read.
Just a few weeks ago it was all doom and gloom at Dalymount Park, the messiah Pat Fenlon had finally left for the greener grass of the SPL (not much greener to be far just look at Rangers but thats for another day), Zurich bank were looking for their money, big name players were leaving for arch rivals and a manager known as a great coach but a manager that had failed in the first division was hired to replace Fenlon. Yes, the talk among not only League of Ireland neutrals but many Bohs fans too was that the “Gypsies” wouldn’t even finish in the top six and that their kids would just be good enough to keep Bohs outside of the relegation dog fight which will take place below.
However, on Monday night Bohemians youngsters put on a show of good passing football while they scored two wonderfully good goals to defeat Portadown in the Setanta Sports Cup and now Dalymount Park is full of belief but where will Bohemians finish 2012?
When I look at the new 12 team division and I look at the teams coming up I see two stronger teams in Cork and Shels and I see a team possibly on par with Bohemians in Roddy Collins Monaghan. We all known Bohemians won’t be in a relegation dog fight so I would expect the likes of UCD and Bray to finish below them and it will be a scrap between Monaghan, Dundalk and Bohs for 8th, 9th and 10th positions.
PREDICTION – 8th
Bray Wanderers, the team twice relegated only to stay up. You never really know whats going to happen on seaside as one minute a team that look hopelessly doomed turn their season around and at one point last season we were talking about Bray possibly qualifying for Europe. Yes, it’s a weird but wonderful world in Bray with the Carlise Ground great Pat Devlin once again taking up the reigns this season after months of speculation regarding new board room members and possibly a new manager but no it is Devlin who will lead this Bray side in 2012.
Bray are the latest side with financial worries on their mind and that has left to the departure of key players including Gary Dempsey, Gary Shaw and Jake Kelly while Wanderers also failed to hold onto promising Irish underage international Conor Murphy who has switched his alliances to the Collins camp up in Monaghan.
In terms of replacements Jason Byrne is of course the stand out name as the Dublin born League of Ireland legend returns to his old stomping ground but for me Byrne’s fitness is a huge concern and if he is to miss segments of the season through injury then Bray are really going to struggle and with a forty year old part of their playing set up this season I think you can see just how stretched Bray are this season and their fans should prepare themselves for a relegation scrap this season.
PREDICTION – 11th
The mighty Cork City return to the Promised Land after promotion from the doldrums as Champions ahead of Shels. It was a great season for Tommy Dunne’s men last season and he will be hoping to build on the progress made since he took over at CCFC two years ago.
With a return to the top flight comes the return of a Cork City legend as Dan Murray returns after a very successful spell with Shamrock Rovers and personally I have always rated Murray as one of the toughest centre half’s in LOI football and despite his let’s say slightly slower mobility one thing is for sure if a goal saving challenge has to be made or if someone has to stick their head into a very dangerous place it will be Murray to do it as he plays with a never say die attitude something like Vidic does for Manchester United in England.
Last season’s stand out player Daryl Horgan joins from Sligo Rovers after a fantastic loan spell with City while Shane O’Connor returns from Ipswich Town in a move that should greatly help reduce the loss of star striker Graham Cummins who has moved to Preston.
Apart from the loss of Cummins, City have been able to hold onto who they desire and we should see some wonderful passing football from this wonderful club and with the backing of the Shed this Cork side should be well able for a top 6 finish as they look to build for future years and return themselves to former great heights.
PREDICTION – 4th
Like Cork City, Derry have also lost their top striker to a foreign side with last season’s club top scorer Eamon Zayed heading for Iran where you may have heard he’s somewhat a bit of a legend now. The great Derry City manager Stephen Kenny has also headed for sunny climes with Tallaghtfornia his new home leaving long time assistant and local man Declan Devine his chance at top flight management.
In terms of on field additions that of Rory Patterson looks to be a top class one and I would have said that even before he scored a hat-trick on his debut in the Setanta Cup. Simon Madden has signed from Dundalk and should fit into Derry’s style of play nicely (he may help fill the void left by James McClean) while Brian Mc Grory has come over from Wolves in England so hopes are high again this season for DCFC.
Derry City finished third last season and were in the title mix for quite a while however, I do not see that happening this season as both Rovers look to strong but another European push should be on the cards despite the loss of some key players so the Brandywell faithful can expect the newly promoted Cork and Shelbourne to be two of their new rivals for those European slots along with the likes of St.Patrick’s Athletic.
PREDICTION – 6th
Drogheda United is my dark horse tip for the upcoming season. Last year Mick Cooke came in and steadied the ship and during this off-season he has gone out and raided his former club Monaghan United where he has picked up some top class footballers.
Between the sticks the “Drog’s” should have no problems with the signing of Gabriel Sava from Monaghan while up the field Cooke has added the two Brennan brothers Ryan and Sean who many expected to be across channel by now a clear sign of their talent. Up front its yet another hero’s return this time its for “Fabio” O’Brien who is a club legend for his European and domestic exploits at the club while Peter Hynes will partner him after signing from First Division Limerick.
Like Cork, Drogheda have held on to the vast majority of last season’s squad and that is always a key for stability within a side so if the back four can stay tight and “Fabio” can stay fit and out of trouble then there’s no reason this “Drog’s” side cant challenge the top six sides in the division.
PREDICTION – 7th (Drogheda’s back four just isn’t as string as the other top six sides and that may cost them)
Sean McCaffery is the new man in charge of Dundalk and he has brought in quite a lot of young talent with many League of Ireland neutrals stating he has brought in very mediocre players and that Dundalk will finish lower than they did last season.
When I look at what they have lost (Quigley, Byrne, Gaynor, Hawkins, Madden to name a few) and what they have replaced them with I do see why many people have taken to the opinion that Dundalk’s squad is not the strongest and despite some tidy additions with the likes of Chris Shields, Shane O’Neill, Derek Foran, Ger Hanley, Gareth Coughlan and Liam Burns it is not a team that will finish in the European places and I don’t think the team is even as strong as near neighbours Drogheda United so you would have to look at the likes of Bohemians and Monaghan as Dundalk’s main competition this season.
PREDICTION – 10th (10th is the lowest I could imagine Dundalk finishing but 8th is the highest)
For so long Monaghan United were the nearly boys of the First Division and when Roddy Collins took over from Mick Cooke many wrote it off as a publicity stunt that would backfire horribly but fair play to the “Rodster” he took over a very down hearted team and gave them fire, fight and belief and it all paid off when they beat Galway United in the play-off final bringing us to this day when the “Mons” are a Premier Division side at long last.
The off-season started horribly for Monaghan with no less than five first team players jumping ship to join former boss Mick Cooke at Drogheda but then came the news that Robert Bayly had signed from Bohemians and we all know that on his day Bayly can be one of the best in the league so that came as a huge relief to Monaghan followers after the departure of the Brennan brothers from their midfield.
Just like Drogheda, Monaghan should have no worries between the posts with Chris Bennion and Michael Schlingermann both joining from St.Patrick’s Athletic and Athlone Town respectively (Bennion and Schlingermann both played together at Athlone before the formers departure to St.Pat’s).
Up front the addition of young Connor Murphy is an exciting one with the Irish under-19 international joining from Bray Wanderers while another promising youngster Darragh Reynor has signed from the Nottingham Forest academy.
Many pessimists are tipping Monaghan to go straight back down but I think the Roddy factor will be key and if his belief in youth is to repay him yet again we could see quite a few new stars unearthed at Monaghan.
PREDICTION – 9th
SHAMROCK ROVERS AND SLIGO ROVERS
Shamrock Rovers go into 2012 looking for a third league title in a row but this time it’s under Stephen Kenny and not Michael O’Neill.
I’m not going to go into depth on Rovers achievements last season because we all know of the Hoops historic season so can this current crop of Rovers stars live up to the expectations of the Tallaght faithful.
Michael O’Neill, Thompson, Brush, Sheppard, Stevens, Sullivan, Ricketts have all left for sunny climes but the additions of Graham Gartland, Daryl Kavanagh and Killian Brennan could prove key if Rovers are to match the other Rovers (Sligo) in what is sure to be one hell of a title scrap.
Last season Sligo Rovers defence was the best in the league and as they have kept pretty much all of that back four together while adding series fire power higher up the field I can’t see past the Bit O’red for the title this season.
Shelbourne came within seconds of winning the First Division title last season but a Graham Cummins strike in Tolka Park in the 94th minute meant the “Reds” had to settle for promotion within the title while they of course went on to suffer heart break in the FAI Cup Final in the Aviva Stadium as Sligo Rovers emerged via a penalty shootout for the second year running.
Since then Shels have pretty much re-signed all of last season’s first teamers with the exception of perhaps Colly James and David McGill.
On the players in market Shels have added some quality players with Glenn Cronnin signing from arch rivals Bohs while Brian Shorthall has made his way over from Richmond along with Anto Murphy while Paddy Kavanagh joins as a free agent after leaving Shamrock Rovers. Stephen Hurley is the other player to sign and this youthful midfielder signed from Bohemians could form a fantastic partnership with Cronnin in the centre of the field.
This Shels side seem to have great strength in depth and I would expect them to reignite their great battle with Cork City from last season. The addition of Shane O’Connor down at Turners Cross will be the difference between the two sides this season in my opinion and it could prove crucial as Shels chase a return to Europe with the likes of Derry City and St.Pats also in the mix.
PREDICTION – 5th
Many saw the dismissal of manager Pete Mahon as a touch harsh after the fiery gaffer guided them through a successful European campaign and to an FAI Ford Cup semi-final and yet another top four finish. However, Mahon is gone and with the appointment of former Saint Liam Buckley as manager the dream machine is once again in operation at the Stadium of Light as the fans begin to dream of lifting the FAI cup for the first time in over half a century while talk of a title challenge is also starting to emerge from the Pats camp.
Buckley has been extremely busy in the transfer market with no less than thirteen players coming in and twelve players going out. The loss of star strikers Danny North and Daryl Kavanagh is a massive one to St.Pat’s but the addition of young Bray star Jake Kelly is an exciting one.
The addition of James Chambers to the Saints midfield is a real coup with the former Shamrock Rovers star already dominating the midfield in pre-season while a number of other tidy midfield players such as Greg Bolger and Darren Mennan should not only help supply the forward line but contribute greatly with goals themselves and for that reason I am not worried by Pats lack of bodies up front but saying that another top class striker would really help them push on to achieve their goals.
Pete Mahon had Pats playing some nice football and I expect Liam Buckley to not only keep that beautiful passing style alive but to build on it and have this Pats side playing similar ball to his Fingal side that captured the FAI Cup………Could this be Pats year at long last?
PREDICTION – 3rd
For so many seasons now UCD have started the season as the bookies relegation favourites and 2012 will be no different as the Colleges youngsters come up against possibly the strongest Premier Division opposition in years.
Last season Galway United were gone and cut adrift before any team above them even started to think about final league positions but this year Galway are gone are UCD take to the starting grid alongside the likes of Bray Wanderers in the race for safety.
Darren Mennan and Dean Marshall have left for St.Patrick’s Athletic and Drogheda United respectively but the additions of Gary Burke and Chris Mulhall from Dublin sides Bohemians and Shelbourne respectively look to be fantastic signings and those two players should face no problem in fitting in to the UCD way of playing which League of Ireland neutrals have admired for so long now under Martin Russell. However, saying that a nice style of play is good to watch yes, but if your not winning games what good is it? Especially at this level so for me UCD will not score enough goals and they will probably ship double what they do manage to convert so for me this is the year UCD return to the second tier of Irish football.
PREDICTION – 12th
So to recap here is my 2012 Airtricity League Premier Division prediction table
- Sligo Rovers
- Shamrock Rovers
- St.Patrick’s Athletic
- Cork City
- Derry City
- Drogheda United
- Monaghan United
- Bray Wanderers (With the first Division looking so strong I would imagine Bray will be relegated via the promotion/relegation play-off)
Keep an eye out for a more in depth look at Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers later this week.