The curtain-raiser to the new League of Ireland season takes place at the Tallaght Stadium tonight as league Champions Shamrock Rovers entertain FAI Cup winners St.Patrick’s Athletic. Tonight’s game also marks a meeting of last season’s top two in the Premier Division although there was a 16 point gap between the Hoops and their Dublin rivals St.Pat’s.
Despite tasting FAI Cup success at the end of November, the off-season was far from plain sailing for the Saints as Head Coach Stephen O’Donnell opted to jump ship to his former club Dundalk with the Galwegian tempting Sam Bone, Robbie Benson, and John Mountney to follow him down the M1.
Former Drogheda United boss Tim Clancy was elected as O’Donnell’s successor and he has been well backed in the transfer market with Eoin Doyle a marquee signing from Bolton Wanderers, while Tubde Owolabi, Mark Doyle, and Anto Breslin are all high-quality additions for the Inchicore side.
The loss of goalkeeper Vítězslav Jaroš and central defender Lee Desmond would suggest Pats may be slightly more vulnerable at the back this season but they certainly have the firepower to blow most teams out of the water. Entertainment value shouldn’t be an issue for Saints supporters in 2022.
As for the Champions, Shamrock Rovers enjoyed something of a procession to a second consecutive league title last season although not backing that up with cup success or a deeper run than they experienced in Europe should very much be viewed as a missed opportunity given the strength in depth and array of riches Hoops boss Stephen Bradley has to select from.
Despite the array of talent in the Shamrock Rovers ranks, the champions often struggled to break sides down last season, particularly teams towards the bottom of the division. The return of Irish international Jack Byrne should bring an extra problem-solver into the equation but once again the lack of an apparent top marksmen strikes as an area of concern.
Both Aaron Greene and Rory Gaffney play important roles in the Rovers attack with both players capable of bringing team mates into play as well as possessing the ability to take on defenders and create space for others to exploit. However, neither man appeal as a 15 or 20 goal a season frontman and when you look at some of the strikers set to strut their stuff in the league this season that is a slight concern.
St.Patrick’s Athletic arguably have the best front line with Doyle and Owolabi while Derry City have a proven goalscorer in Jamie McGonigle and even further down the table Dundalk FC can still call upon legendary strikers Pat Hoban and David McMillan.
Bar One Racing are offering Double The Odds on First Goalscorer bets for tonight’s Presidents Cup with the man who scored over 100 goals during his ten-year spell in the UK, Eoin Doyle appearing excellent value at 11/2 (Potentially 11/1 if he scores first and bags another in the 90 mins).
In terms of head-to-head encounters last season, they played a crucial outcome in the final league standings with Shamrock Rovers winning three of the four league meetings (3W1D) with the Champions scoring late goals in all of them.
With the Presidents Cup being decided on the night (90 mins and then straight to penalties if required) these are usually entertaining events with both teams scoring in the last three Presidents Cups. With a big crowd expected at Tallaght Stadium tonight (over 4k tickets sold) there could be a slightly carefree approach to this game as it is essentially nothing more than a glorified friendly. The fact Shamrock Rovers lost out on penalties to Dundalk last season proves the result of this game means little so those turning out or tuning in on LOI TV should be treated to a good watch.
PREDICTION: Draw (23/10)
BEST BET: BTTS (EVS)
FGS TIP: Eoin Doyle (11/2)