Airtricity League: The Big Kick-Off

by Robbie Deighan

It was another pre-season of financial doom and gloom for the League of Ireland, with Sporting Fingal meeting their demise and Bohemians tethering on the brink of collapse for a few nervy weeks. Thankfully, on Friday night the league will finally kick-off and the football can take centre stage again.

Sporting Fingal finished last season in 4th place on 67 points, only five away from league winners Shamrock Rovers. It was their first year in the top flight and the season previously they picked up the FAI Cup, their first piece of silverware. On the pitch, they were a club progressing rapidly. The reason behind their success being an unsustainable financial plan, that most predicted would collapse sooner rather than later. Just a few weeks following the publication of several articles in the media claiming the main investor in the club was all set to pull out, the club announced the termination of all player contracts. Their story is one of reckless ambition and one would hope other clubs will learn from this, but both Fingal and Bohemians witnessed Shamrock Rovers, Shelbourne and Cork City amongst others play against the devil and lose and still they repeated the mistakes of their rivals.

Bohemians banked everything on achieving European success. Their failure to progress against Welsh side TNS has seen the Gypsies flirt with financial ruin. Manager Pat Fenlon admitted he contemplated resigning. In the end he opted to stay, but he is one of few survivors as Jason Byrne, Raff Cretaro, Paddy Madden and several more have played their last game at Dalymount. They did manage to retain the services of top quality players like Owen Heary and Glenn Cronin as well as adding several new faces to the squad.

Champions Shamrock Rovers have had a busy pre-season bringing in some real talent to Tallaght. Striker Ciaran Killduff arrived from UCD. At just 22, Kilduff is a bright prospect but certainly has what it takes to partner Gary Twigg up front. Another former UCD man to sign up with Rovers is midfielder Ronan Finn, who was a free agent because of the problems at Sporting Fingal. Gary McCabe joined from cup champions Sligo Rovers, and in what must be a bitter pill for Bohemians to swallow, defender Ken Oman crossed the Liffey to join the champions. With such an array of talent joining Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians new squad surely needing time to gel the Tallaght club have to be favourites to retain their title.

One club who will want to have a big say in that, is cup champions Sligo Rovers. To the surprise of many, the Bit O’ Red managed to convince star player Richie Ryan to stay at the club. Raff Cretaro has returned for a second stint at the Showgrounds after a season with Bohemians, while defender Jason McGuiness and young striker Aaron Greene also joined him in making the trip from Dublin to Sligo.

On Friday night Sligo will be starting the season at the Brandywell against the promoted Derry City. Derry wasted no time in bolstering their squad for the top flight, capturing Gareth McGlynn and Ruaidhri Higgins from Bohemians and veteran striker Eamon Zayed from Fingal. This match looks set to be the tie of the opening night, with the Derry fans sure to create a great atmosphere on their return to the big time.

Friday, March 4th

Bray Wanderers v Bohemians

Derry City v Sligo Rovers

Drogheda United v UCD

Galway United v St. Patrick’s Athletic

Shamrock Rovers v Dundalk (live on RTE 2)

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