In the spring a young Irishman’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of football.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson is probably due an apology and in truth most Irish football fans have more interest in the game in Tennyson’s home country.
For a small but growing band of devotees the SSE Airtricity League returns at the weekend.
The omens for this season are positive give crowds were up 25% in 2017 according to a survey on ExtraTime.ie.
Cork City accounted for much of the increase and their march to the title also saw them pull in the biggest crowds.
Meanwhile, football in the capital saw healthy increases despite little improvement on the pitch for the three Premier sides – Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Saint Patrick’s Athletic.
The opening night Bohemians v Shamrock Rovers derby sold out two weeks in advance, and social media includes messages from English and German fans looking for tickets.
Bohemians also tweeted a video encouraging fans to experience a live game which has proved very popular.
— Bohemian FC (@bfcdublin) January 29, 2018
The Premier Division has been reduced to ten teams making it extremely competitive and the four European places will be much sought after, although the current incumbents are likely to be favoured again.
The title race should again be between Cork City and Dundalk.
At the other end of the table Limerick and Bray Wanderers will be hoping to avoid the dreaded drop to the First Division.
Manager: Keith Long
Bohs continue to punch above their financial weight. Faud Sule and Izzy Akinade will be missed but Keith Long’s side should avoid the drop.
Key Signings: Keith Buckley, Kevin Devaney, JJ Lunney, Darragh Leahy, Cristian Magerusan, Karl Moore, Ryan Swan, Dylan Watts (loan)
Star Player: Dinny Corcoran
Bray Wanderers FC
Manager: Dave Mackey
Bray’s issues off the pitch may have been exaggerated. However, survival will be their target.
Key Signings: Paul O’Conor, Sean Heaney, Darragh Gibbons, Dylan Hayes, Jake Kelly, Dan McKenna (loan), Eric Donnelly, Cory Galvin, Rhys Gorman, Daniel Kelly
Star Player: Gary McCabe
Cork City FC
Manager: John Caulfield
Retaining a title is traditionally much harder to do than winning one. Sean Magurie’s goals will be missed and Dundalk have strengthened but the title will stay on Leeside.
Key Signings: Barry McNamee, Aaron Barry, Graham Cummins, Tobi Adebayo-Rowling, Peter Cherrie, Danny Kane, Colm Horgan, Josh O’Hanlon
Star Player: Kieran Sadlier
Derry City FC
Manager: Kenny Shiels
The return to the Brandywell should offset the loss of key players.
Key Signings: Dapo Kayode, Armin Aganovic, Gavin Peers, Jamie McDonagh, Jamie McIntyre, John Cofie, David Hopkirk, , Rory Hale, Ronan Hale (loan)
Star Player: Conor McDermott
Manager: Stephen Kenny
The title race should be a lot closer but Niclas Vemmelund and David McMillan will be missed. Key players are already struggling with injury and Cork may just edge it this year.
Key Signings: Stephen Folan, Ronan Murray, Patrick Hoban, Dean Jarvis, Ross Treacy, Karolis Chvedukas, Krisztian Adorjan (loan)
Star Player: Sean Gannon
Manager: Tommy Barrett
A turbulent close season means survival is probably the limit of the club’s ambition. Chiedozie Ogbene, Barry Cotter and Bastien Hery will be missed from the weakened squad that finished 2017.
Key Signings: Darren Dennehy, Billy Dennehy, Eoin Wearen, Cian Coleman, Shaun Kelly, Daniel Kearns, Conor Ellis, Mark O Sullivan, Danny Morrissey, Kilian Cantwell.
Star Player: Shane Duggan
Saint Patrick’s Athletic FC
Manager: Liam Buckley
Pat’s have signed well and should not have to worry about relegation this time.
Key Signings: Simon Madden, Kevin Toner, Ryan Brennan, James Doona, Dean Clarke, Michael Leahy, Thomas Byrne, Jake Keegan
Star Player: Christy Fagan
Shamrock Rovers FC
Manager: Stephen Bradley
The country’s richest and most successful club may just miss out on the top two but with a bit of luck could end their 31-year wait for an FAI Cup win.
Key Signings: Ethan Boyle, Greg Bolger, Daniel Carr, Ally Gilchriest, Joel Coustrain, Joey O’Brien
Star Player: Brandon Miele
Sligo Rovers FC
Manager: Gerard Lyttle
The Bit O’Red just held off Galway to avoid the drop but did seem to improve through the season under Lyttle. They should do enough to survive again this year.
Key Signings: Adam Morgan, Eduardo Pincelli, David Cawley, Caolan McAleer, Lewis Morrison, Adam Wixted, Alistair Roy (loan)
Star Player: Rhys McCabe
Manager: Alan Reynolds
Newly promoted Waterford have received serious financial investment since Lee Power took control. Consolidation in mid-table will be the minimum requirement and that should be achieved comfortably.
Key Signings: Niall Corbet , Gavan Holohan, Stanley Aborah, Rory Feely, John Kavanagh, David Webster, Bastian Hery, Faysel Kasmi, Izzy Akinade
Star Player: Bastian Hery