The longest-running transfer saga of the League of Ireland off-season finally concluded on Wednesday afternoon as Pat Hoban was officially unveiled as a Derry City player.
While Hoban’s time at Dundalk appears to have ended on something of a sour note, the Galwegian departs Oriel Park as the club’s all-time leading goalscorer, and his arrival on Foyleside has sent out a clear signal of intent that the Candystripes intend to push Shamrock Rovers all the way for the title this season.
Hoban, who netted 150 goals during two spells at Dundalk, heads the outright League of Ireland Premier Division Top Goalscorer market at 5/1.
The 32-year-old hitman certainly won’t be short of service at his new club with Derry City’s midfield stacked full of quality while Hoban’s settling-in period should be made significantly smoother given he is linking back up with several former Dundalk FC teammates at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium.
At his unveiling press conference, Hoban spoke about wanting to prove himself all over again at another club and silence the doubters out there who suggest he is past his best.
Looking at Hoban’s potential rivals for the Golden Boot, St.Patrick’s Athletic may be the main source of competition not only when it comes to players who may outgun Hoban but for the league title itself. Only three points separated third-placed St.Pat’s and runners-up Derry City last season and the Saints have completed some big deals of their own over the winter.
Ruairi Keating (6/1) overcame the darkest of personal tragedies last season to shine in a dreadful and ultimately relegated Cork City side with the Westport man netting 13 league goals in 2023. Keating has since signed for the FAI Cup winners St.Pat’s and will be supported in attack by club legend Chris Forrester (8/1) who finished just two goals off the pace in the race for last season’s top scorer gong.
League of Ireland fans love a total unknown and in Sten Reinkort (8/1) Bohemians have exactly that with the Estonian international joining the Gypsies from Flora Tallin earlier this week. Reinkort’s goal record in Estonia looks promising but you only need to ask Sligo Rovers fans about the strike rate of such signings in recent years if you’re seeking to temper expectations.
Bohs have lost the league’s joint-top scorer from last season to Belgian football with Jonathan Afolabi signing for K.V. Kortrijk in the Belgian Pro League after a stellar season at Dalymount Park so the pressure if very much on Reinkort to hit the ground running.
Of course, Shamrock Rovers are still the team everyone else is chasing after the Hoops claimed a historic fourth consecutive league crown last season but Stephen Bradley’s charges had quite a spread of goals across the team last season which means two of their top marksmen from last term are available at fairly generous odds with Irish international Graham Burke 17/2 to finish as the league’s top scorer while Rory Gaffney is 9/1.
Derry City’s boss Ruaidhrí Higgins has stated he won’t be making any more additions to his squad after the captures of Pat Hoban and Daniel Kelly (10/1) from Dundalk but one player he has let go may come back to bite him next season with talented winger Brandon Kavanagh (10/1) joining title rivals St.Pat’s.
Despite only starting 11 of 36 league games last season, Kavanagh netted five times and set up a further seven goals, and with more game time looking likely at Richmond Park he offers value in the market at 10/1.
It looks unlikely that anyone outside of last season’s top three (Rovers, Derry, Pat’s) will genuinely challenge for top honours in 2024 but one team who could emerge as a headache for those three teams is Damien Duff’s Shelbourne.
Duff has worked wonders in his first senior management job with the Irish legend leading the Reds to a top-four finish last season and a return to Europe for the first time in almost two decades. While the Drumcondra club has lost the services of last season’s joint-highest league scorer Jack Moylan, who has signed for English club Lincoln City, the addition of John Martin (12/1) from Dundalk could be a shrewd one while Duff will be hoping that Sean Boyd (11/1) enjoys more luck with injuries in the upcoming campaign compared to the last.
Dean Williams (14/1) arrival from City rivals Bohemians means Duff has plenty of strength in depth up front despite the loss of Moylan and Hull City loanees Will Jarvis and Harry Wood who were key contributors in the second half of last season.
Looking further down the potential league standings next season, Drogheda United have swooped for one of the stars of last year’s First Division with Haitian striker Frantz Pierrot (16/1) signing from Athlone Town. Pierrot, who arrived in Ireland as a total unknown twelve months ago, smashed in 21 goals for the Midlanders last season and could be a hugely exciting prospect stepping up to the top level next term.
Speaking of the First Division, Galway United cakewalked their way to promotion last season with the Tribesmen scoring over 100 goals in all competitions last season. Midfielder David Hurley (20/1) was responsible for 24 of those while defender-turned-star striker Stephen Walsh (25/1) has netted 31 league goals across the past two seasons since the inspired positional swap made by manager John Caulfield.
Such was the strength in depth in the final third at Galway last season that promising young striker Wilson Waweru (33/1) was allowed to leave the club for a loan spell at Cobh Ramblers. Waweru clutched the opportunity with both hands as he found the back of the net on 13 occasions for the Rams.
As a result, Waweru has been recruited by Sligo Rovers who are hoping that they’ve pulled another rabbit out of the hat with Aidan Keena and Max Mata proving to be inspired recent signings before their respective departures to the UK.
As for who is left with the unenviable task of trying to fill the rather large boots of Patrick Hoban at Dundalk, Stephen O’Donnell appears to be putting his faith in Scotland’s Cameron Elliott (40/1) despite the former East Killbride man scoring only once in his maiden League of Ireland season.
* Other players available on request.