Shamrock Rovers go into the new League of Ireland season still the team to beat as the Hoops seek a historic fourth consecutive league title. Despite securing three-in-a-row last year and qualifying for the group stages of the Conference League, there’s a feeling that Rovers weren’t always at their best last season as they perhaps struggled with the demands of competing on all fronts between the league, cup, and European competition.
Manager Stephen Bradley appears to have addressed that during the winter by beefing up his squad but he hasn’t just brought in players to make up the numbers as he’s added players of real quality and potential. Estonian midfielder Markus Poom looks like he could be a major force in this league while LOI fans need no introductions on former Sligo Rovers striker Johnny Kenny and midfielder Liam Burt who has made the switch from Rovers arch City rivals Bohemians. Andy Lyons will be badly missed after his move to Blackpool but Trevor Clarke is a good replacement returning from the UK.
Expectations have certainly risen at Derry City after the league runners up last season ended 2022 by winning the FAI Cup in convincing fashion while the Candystripes comfortably beat Shamrock Rovers in the curtain raising Presidents Cup on Friday. The Boynesiders have also added immense quality to their squad in the winter, most notably Preston midfielder Adam O’Reilly who excelled on loan at St.Pat’s last season. Derry City went from finishing 24 points behind the league winners in 2021 to finishing 13 points behind the Hoops last season and while I filly expect it to be a very tightly contested title race this season, for me, Shamrock Rovers are still the top dog in Ireland.
Dundalk overachieved during Stephen O’Donnell’s first season in charge as the legendary former league winning captain guided the Lilywhites to a top three finish and with it a return to Europe. However, I’m not convinced that they have massively strengthened the squad so another top four finish would be perfectly acceptable for the Louth men this season. O’Donnell’s old club St.Patrick’s Athletic will probably be disappointed not to have finished above Dundalk last season and if Eoin Doyle can up his goals output this term, there may be an opportunity for Pats to turn the tables with Dundalk.
Bohemians have had a good and much needed clean out since new manager Declan Devine arrived at the club and while they look a little light in the defensive areas, they do appear to have plenty of fire power this season and could be in the mix for a top four finish. Sligo Rovers suffered the hammer blow of losing the leagues top scorer Aidan Keena to Cheltenham Town recently so all eyes will be on his replacement Stefan Radosavljevic who has a fantastic goals record in the Faroe Islands where he has been fully capped at international level. However, international caps are no guarantee to success in the LOI as has been seen countless times in the past so if Radosavljevic fails to fire or settle in Ireland, it could be a difficult season for the Bit O’Red.
It was a steady first season in management for Ireland legend Damien Duff as he reestablished Shelbourne in the top-flight following promotion while he gave the fans a day out at the Aviva Stadium by reaching the FAI Cup final where they were thoroughly outclassed by Derry City. While the Duffer has brought in a couple of nice players, there still appears to be a void up front with no proven goalscorer in the side so I wouldn’t expect much more from Shels other than another “steady” season.
Lower down the table is where the drama will be and newly promoted Cork City will be hoping to avoid being caught up in any sort of relegation dogfight as the Rebels return to the Premier Division. Cork City were deserving winners of the First Division last season but it was clear their squad would need major investment if they are to really mix it back among the elite and I’m not sure they’ve done enough in the transfer market to be confident of that. Like many teams this season, Cork have brought in a lot of unknown players from outside of the league so much will depend on how they adapt.
Kevin Doherty was one of the best performing managers in the league last season as he kept Drogheda United in the Premier Division comfortably while he turned United Park into a really horrible venue for opposition teams to visit as they collected the scalps of some of the leagues biggest sides at the Louth venue. However, Doherty has admitted his buget has been cut this season as the club continue to try and bring in some outside investment and overall, their squad looks much weaker than it was 12 months ago.
Drogheda fans will be praying and hoping that relegation favourites UCD live up to that favourites tag and finish below them this season. UCD manager Andy Myler performed a miracle in keeping the Students up last season but his squad has been raided as a result.
Kieran Burke’s LOI Premier Division predicted table:
- 1. Shamrock Rovers
- 2. Derry City
- 3. St.Patrick’s Athletic
- 4. Dundalk
- 5. Bohemians
- 6. Sligo Rovers
- 7. Shelbourne
- 8. Cork City
- 9. Drogheda United
- 10. UCD AFC