Niall Farrell looks at the comings and goings in an Airtricity League off-season which has again been dominated by non-transfer news.
In an off-season dominated by the legal action taken by two former players against Bohemians, it is fitting that most of the big transfer stories in the Airtricity League involve the Gypsies in one way or another.
Bohs, who are one of a number of clubs currently appealing for financial investment from fans, have had a number of high profile players leave- something which has been replicated across Ireland.
Highly rated left-back Conor Powell, who was one of the players blamed by Bohs fans after they crashed out in the Champions League qualifying stage to TNS, has been signed by Colchester United. One of the Airtricity League XI which faced Manchester United, Paul Keegan has also left for England- with Doncaster Rovers his destination.
Jason Byrne and Mark Quigley bucked the trend of players leaving for foreign climes by signing for Dundalk and rumours abound about further departures from Bohs. Paddy Madden has been linked with SPL and English Championship sides for months now, and scouts from Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart also reportedly watched him.
Most of the headlines surround Bohs, but across Dublin fierce rivals and league champions Shamrock Rovers have been quietly strengthening. Former Everton youngster Karl Sheppard has joined up after a good season with Galway United, with his former teammate Stephen O’Donnell also signing for the Hoops. Gary McCabe, who tasted cup success with Sligo, has been signed along with Ciaran Kilduff- who was the attacking fulcrum of the UCD side which survived relegation last year.
Shamrock Rovers are again many peoples’ early favourites for the title- especially with a weakened Bohemians side. But across the country, a talented Sligo Rovers side threatens to take the title out of Leinster for the first time since Cork City’s win in 2005. Sligo haven’t officially signed anyone yet, but the Bit o’Red have announced a new deal for player of the year Richie Ryan, and should also hold on to key players like Joseph Ndo and Romauld Boco.
Elsewhere, Dundalk have made the biggest splash by signing the aforementioned Bohs duo of Byrne and Quigley, but Sporting Fingal and St. Patrick’s Athletic have also made a number of signings. Pats have brought in proven players like Stephen Bradley, Paul Crowley, Daryl Kavanagh and Evan McMillan, but will find it hard to replace the talismanic Ryan Guy, who has returned to the USA. David McAllister has also left the club – signing for Sheffield United.
Fingal, who again qualified for European competition this season, completed the signing of UCD’s industrious midfielder Greg Bolger last week, but have lost defender Kenny Browne to Waterford United.
The 2011 Airtricity League campaign kicks-off on the 4th of March, so keep an eye out on Back Page Football for more pre-season coverage and articles.