Following the release of the opening round of fixtures ahead of the 2023 League of Ireland season, Bar One Racing has become the first bookmaker to offer outright betting on both the LOI Premier and First Divisions for next season. The new campaign will begin on Friday, February 17th with eight games taking place across the two domestic divisions with two further games taking place on Saturday, February 18th.
Having secured a third consecutive LOI Premier Division in 2022, Shamrock Rovers are once again the team everyone else must aim to catch with the Hoops 8/11 to retain their crown. As for the First Division, both Waterford FC and Galway United had planned on playing in the top-flight in 2023 but instead, they must again plot a path to promotion.
Following the release of outright markets on the 2023 League of Ireland season, Bar One Racing broadcaster and host of the hugely popular “Between the Stripes LOI podcast“, Kieran Burke has penned his reaction.
LOI Premier Division prices: Shamrock Rovers 8/11, Derry City 5/2, Dundalk 6/1, St.Patrick’s Athletic 8/1, Sligo Rovers 14/1, Bohemians 20/1, Shelbourne 20/1, Cirk City 25/1, Drogheda United 100/1, UCD AFC 500/1
LOI First Division prices: Waterford FC 13/8, Galway United 5/2, Finn Harps 7/2, 8/1 BAR.
Kieran Burke’s 2023 League of Ireland Preview.
While we are yet to see any major wheelings and dealings in the LOI transfer market, it’s clear Shamrock Rovers are the ones to catch again next year. While Derry City managed to half the deficit on the Hoops last season in comparison to the 2021 campaign, Rovers were still double digits clear of the Candystripes.
The addition of Liam Burt from Dublin rivals Bohemians could be inspired with the likes of Andy Lyons and Danny Mandriou both proving to be big hits in Tallaght off the back of moves from Dalymount Park. However, the manner in which Derry City won the FAI Cup last season was hugely exciting and if Ruadhri Higgins can add to the already talented group of players he has already built then there is no reason Derry can’t mix it with Rovers all the way next term.
Dundalk’s return to the European places under Stephen O’Donnell was one of the great stories of last year as the Lilywhites legend overachieved in his first season in the job. For me, what is exciting from a Dundalk point of view is the fact there squad looked fairly average on paper and certainly performed like an average side at times last season which should mean there is huge scope for improvement if O’Donnell can use some of that European money wisely in the off-season. Closing the gap on the top two will be Dundalk’s aim this year along with a charge at the FAI cup and some progress in Europe but at this moment in time it is difficult to see them challenging for the title.
By way of Derry City’s FAI Cup success, St.Patrick’s Athletic will enjoy another European campaign next season with Tim Clancy another manager who performed well in his first season in a new gig. For now, regular European qualification appears to be the most the Saints can ask for and they should stand every chance of at least matching what they did last season.
Having beaten Bala Town and Motherwell in Europe last season, Sligo Rovers will be hoping they can earn a quick return to continental competition having missed out on a European finish last season. John Russell was appointed as manager at the midway point of last year and appears to have a big job on his hands if Sligo are to kick on to the next level. Already Sligo have lost one of their top performers in Paddy Kirk who has returned to Bohemians so it’s crucial the Bit O’Red are able to retain star striker Aidan Keena who is subject to major interest from clubs here and abroad.
Another manager with a huge task on his hands is Declan Devine who has taken over at Bohemians. Bohs are another side who enjoyed some great European nights in recent years but haven’t been able to transfer such success back into the league. The Gypsies were utterly embarrassing at times last season and while Devine has made some good signings it’s difficult to see them finishing any higher than midtable.
Damien Duff’s Shelbourne took a right hammering from an excellent Derry City in the FAI Cup final last month and the Duffer is another manager who needs to add some genuine quality if his team are to kick on next season.
Drogheda United were written off by many this time last year but the shrewd management team of Kevin Doherty and Daire Doyle comfortably guided the club to safety but with the Drogs now the only part-time team in the division they are going to have to fight tooth and nail to avoid a bottom two finish.
Cork City have come up from the First Division as champions and will be well supported as ever. However, despite showing remarkable consistency in the second tier last year, many Cork fans accept substantial investment in players is needed if they are to truly compete at this level. With a fresh takeover of the club on the horizon, the money should be there to add to the squad but getting the right players in will be key.
As for UCD, the Students defied all the odds by staying up last season so they won’t be surprised to see themselves red-hot favourites to finish bottom this season and they’ll be fine with that and use it as motivation. UCD’s challenge will be all the harder after star striker Tommy Lonergan left the club to sign for St.Patrick’s Athletic.
In the First Division, both Waterford and Galway set their stalls out to be promoted last season. Waterford blew the start before finishing strong under a new manager and if Danny Searle is backed as many expect then there’s no reason the Blues can’t win the league. Backing certainly hasn’t been an issue for John Caulfield at Galway but one department he clearly doesn’t have support in is from the terraces.
Galway United played an industrial style of football last season and eventually bowed out of the playoffs very tamely against Waterford. The overwhelming majority of the fanbase wants to see the back of the former Cork boss and that will make it very difficult for Galway next season as even the slightest hiccup could soon snowball into a crisis. On that basis, you’d have to make Waterford title favourites.
It’s the end of an era at Finn Harps with Ollie Horgan moving on after nine years following the club’s relegation. The appointment of Dave Rogers on a four-year contract seems to indicate a sea change at the club. The former Nottingham Forest coach appears as if he’ll be given time to build from the ground up so I do not expect them to challenge for the title this season.
In fact, next season appears to be a real season of change across the division with something of a player and manager merry-go-round underway involving Wexford FC, Bray Wanderers, and Longford Town. With Gary Cronin leaving Longford to become Bohemians new number two, an opportunity opened up for rival clubs to swoop on De Town’s best talents while the club was still searching for a new manager. Cronin’s assistant last season, James Keddy has taken over Wexford and raided his old club while the man he replaced, Ian Ryan has done likewise to Wexford after jumping ship to Bray. Got all that?
Those three sides are likely to be direct rivals for play-off places next season but it’s difficult to see them troubling the big two of Waterford and Galway. Treaty United will again be seen as overachievers if they can sneak a play-off place while Athlone Town will be hoping to compete for a play-off place after a strong finish to last season.
Cobh Ramblers and the newly formed Kerry FC face off on the opening day of the season and they may be the two sides battling to avoid the wooden spoon next season.
TITLE PREDICTIONS: Shamrock Rovers (8/11) and Waterford FC (13/8).