While the 2020 First Division season threatens to be overshadowed by the on-going “Shamrock Rovers B” controversy, on paper the second tier looks a far more open contest than we may see in the top-flight with Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers seemingly set to finish a long way clear of their nearest rivals once again.
Shelbourne spent big this time last year in order to secure their promotion back to the promised land and while the Reds were probably less convincing winners than they should have been there is no doubt Ian Morris’s men were deserving winners owing to their consistency.
However, for the second season running both Longford and particularly Drogheda showed real glimpses of ability and with both clubs retaining their key players for 2020 it’s no surprise to see the pair made joint favorites for this years division.
Despite losing to Cabinteely in the early stages of last seasons play-offs, Longford Town featured heavily in the team of the year with no less than 5 Town players included and of those most have remained bar Connor Kenna who has retired from LOI and Anto Breslin who has moved up a division with Bohemians and looks a special talent.
Lee Steacy, Shane Elworthy, Mick Mconnell and Dean Byrne all remain while local lad Aodh Dervin, who most certainly should have been recognised for his powerful performances, all remain for 2020 leaving new Longford boss Daire Doyle with a very strong hand.
On top of that the arrival of last seasons top marksman in the league Rob Manley looks a match made in heaven as well as a few other tidy bits of transfer business.
As for the “Drogs” it’s a similar story really with Tim Clancy excelling in the United hot-seat in the past two seasons and as a result I’d give them the slight edge over Longford for the title but it’s a close run thing.
Galway United cut their cloth in 2019 and fielded a very young and mostly local side but have made some shrewd acquisitions in recent weeks and may out run their 6/1 price tag while much more will be expected of Bray Wanderers after yet another off-season of sustained player investment.
However, the Seagulls have lost the goals of Dylan McGlade and Shamrock Rovers loanee Dean Williams meaning a striker will still be high on the shopping list for manager Gary Cronin.
UCD’s latest cycle of talent has come to an end with the likes of Liam Scales and Conor Kearns departing for pastures new but another crop of bright young talent is never far away and you can never rule out the Students at this level. However, with their squad makeup totally unknown at this stage there are obvious risks attached to backing the College.
Cabinteely have seen the vultures circle after their historic 2019 campaign with Cabo’s top talent been picked up by divisional rivals meaning it’s hard to see how they can compete with the better resourced sides this term but with half of the division qualifying for the end of season play-offs next season then that will be Pat Devlin’s goal.
The same goes for Cobh who will always find it difficult to compete with clubs drawing bigger crowds and with it holding more sway in the transfer market but both Cabinteely and Cobh are always difficult to beat, particularly at home, and should prove a thorn in the side for many while the bottom two will see little change as Wexford and Athlone simply battle to keep the show on the road.
*Always gamble responsibly*