League of Ireland Premier Division restart preview

The 2020 League of Ireland Premier Division season restarts on Friday night, nearly five months on from the last match of the season, which was played on March 7th.

As was expected before the start of the season back in February, the Premier Division title race will be between Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk.

Rovers got their season off to a flier, winning their first five games, including a come from behind 3-2 win over Dundalk in Tallaght.

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Rovers have vast experience through their spine with Mannus in goal, Cape Verde international Roberto Lopes and former Ireland international Joey O’Brien at the back, current Ireland international Jack Byrne in midfield and Graham Burke in great goalscoring form.

Greg Bolger has been ruled out for the remainder of the condensed season with a fractured ankle and he will certainly be a loss. Burke also could be on the sidelines for a spell with injury. Stephen Bradley’s charges have plenty of strength in depth however.

Dundalk also of course have great experience in their ranks and a settled squad. They also have several members of the team from the groundbreaking 2016 European campaign either having returned to the club or still at the club. With vast experience all over the pitch, the starting XI almost picks itself. With Patrick Hoban in scoring form and David McMillan having re-signed for the club, goals won’t be in short supply for the Oriel outfit.

The battle for the other two potential European spots looks set to be close (there will be four European places from the league if the FAI Cup winner comes from one of the top-three in the league).

Another side with a lot of experience in their ranks are St. Patrick’s Athletic. If Chris Forrester and Robbie Benson hit the form they’re capable of, and with Ronan Hale, Clarke and new signing Georgie Kelly from Dundalk capable of scoring goals, Pat’s could secure a European place, though they’ll be a considerable way off the top two.

Bohemians got their season off to a mixed start with two wins and two defeats. They’re mainly a young team and the fact that they, along with the three other European qualified teams came back to group training earlier than the other teams, will be of benefit to them.

Keith Long is a canny manager and, though the Gypsies have had two heavy defeats in recent friendlies (4-0 at Dundalk and 3-0 at Linfield), they’ll be in contention to qualify for Europe again this season. Danny Mandroiu was the subject of interest from Dutch Eredivisie outfit FC Twente, but that appears to have fallen through and the 21 year-old will be an important attacking threat for the Phibsborough side.

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Derry City are currently seventh in the league table but I expect them to kick on from there. The lively midfield trio of Conor McCormack, Ciaron Harkin and Conor Clifford will be important to the Candystripes. With the departure of Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe they lack a real out-and-out goalscorer though, which could see a push for a European place come up short.

Many predicted that Shelbourne would struggle on their first season back in the Premier Division since 2013. They have a mixture of young players and experience with Karl Sheppard and Ciarán Kilduff’s scoring threat likely to be important. I don’t expect Shels to be involved in a relegation battle.

Waterford will have been disappointed to have lost manager Alan Reynolds. His replacement, former Ireland international John Sheridan though is a very experienced manager in the lower leagues in England and he is likely to use his contacts to recruit players. The Blues have a mainly young team, with the likes of Sam Bone important in providing composure at the back and new recruits should mean that they finish clear of the relegation scrap.

The battle to avoid the drop looks set to be between Finn Harps, Cork City and Sligo Rovers.

Cork had a very disappointing 2019 season. Having finished in the top two every season since 2014, the Leesiders finished eighth last term and the threat of relegation loomed over them until the last few weeks of the season.

Pipped 0-1 on the opening night by St. Pat’s this year, Neale Fenn’s charges were humiliated 6-0 by Shamrock Rovers for what as a record equalling defeat for the club. A few days later, City were hammered 3-0 by Dundalk, a score that could have been much more and it looked like being a very trying season for the 2017 double winners.

City then recovered to beat Finn Harps 1-0 though, a result which could be important come the end of the season. Cork have a big squad, with more than 30 players in the first team panel, many of whom are on loan from the lower leagues and underage teams in England.

Joseph Olowu, a defender on loan from Arsenal looks to be a player and City also have the experience of Gearóid Morrissey and Graham Cummins in their ranks, though they need to find goals having only scored once in five games this season. How the loanees adapt will dictate how City’s season finishes and I expect them to do enough to avoid finishing in the bottom two.

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Sligo Rovers are the only club still yet to win a point this season and the break probably came at a good time for them. They have signed last season’s League of Ireland top scorer Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, who netted 14 times in 31 appearances for Derry last term. If he can maintain that sort of form it could be enough to help the Bit O’Red avoid the automatic relegation spot.

Last year Finn Harps did just about enough to avoid relegation and the remainder of this season is likely to be a struggle for Ollie Horgan’s side also. Harps do have four points from four games so far this season but the match they won came against a poor Sligo outfit. I expect the signings of the two teams currently below Harps to help propel them above the Donegal outfit and see them relegated. If Harps are to avoid relegation, players like Barry McNamee will need to be on form.

Below is how I predict the final League of Ireland Premier Division table to look come October 30th. I look forward to all of my predictions being correct!

League of Ireland Premier Division 2020 final table prediction

1st – Shamrock Rovers
2nd – Dundalk
3rd – St. Patrick’s Athletic
4th – Bohemians
5th – Derry City
6th – Shelbourne
7th – Waterford
8th – Cork City
9th – Sligo Rovers
10th – Finn Harps

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