Whether it’s due to the various ins and outs (or lack thereof in some cases) of almost every squad over the last few months, or simply because the off-season is so long that we’ve all had plenty of time to overthink things, how the 2016 League of Ireland season will shape up seems noticeably more difficult to predict.
Despite this, I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon and give it a go anyway before I travel to what is a currently snowy Richmond Park this evening. It didn’t go too disastrously the last time I did so, and that’s more or less what I’m hoping for again this time around.
- Cork City
The nearly men of a period defined by Dundalk’s dominance, this might be the year John Caulfield’s men finally make it over the line. Their 2-0 victory over the reigning champions in the President’s Cup is a good omen, but much of the reasoning lies in the bolstering of an already formidable squad. The signing of Greg Bolger from Pat’s may prove to be the best of the season, and with the further additions of Kenny Browne, Sean Maguire, Stephen Dooley, Eoghan O’Connell, Ian Turner and the return of Gearoid Morrissey from Cambridge, Cork look well-placed to at the very least push Dundalk far closer than the nine point gap that was left at the end of last season, if not usurp them altogether.
It’s difficult to gauge at this moment what to expect from Dundalk this season with the departure of last year’s talisman Richie Towell. There’s no doubting that they are still left with a fantastic squad in his absence, and Robbie Benson and particularly Patrick McEleney are players that will surely be able to immediately prove their worth in a top side, but one has to question just how many points Towell was worth to them last campaign. The safe bet is still probably on the Lilywhites to make it three in a row, but with Cork’s strengthening it looks eminently less certain than before.
3. Shamrock Rovers
For once, the Hoops have actually managed to conduct their business in a subtle, non-headline-grabbing manner this time around, and one thinks that it’ll likely stand them in good stead for the coming season. They’ve kept a largely settled squad, instead electing to clear out some of the deadwood and only adding the trio of Killian Brennan, Dean Clarke and Gary Shaw to their ranks. Rovers will and always should have an air of expectation around them, however it’s still difficult to see them really challenging that top two in the manner they’d like to.
4. St Pat’s
The Saints seem to be the biggest enigma going into this season, and while trying to avoid all bias I’m anticipating them to undertake a samey, Jekyll and Hyde kind of role that frustrated them in 2015. For the first time since 2012 there has been wholesale changing to the playing staff at Inchicore as manager Liam Buckley attempts to freshen up a squad that appeared to have reached the end of its cycle. Incredibly strong at the back and going forward, it’s the midfield that could become a problem area for Pat’s, with David Cawley and Graham Kelly being brought in to replace the Bolger, Brennan and James Chambers trifecta that was so integral to their entire style of playing. Time will tell though, and if the likes of Keith Treacy (when 100% fit), Billy Dennehy and Mark Timlin can hit the ground running Pat’s could once again become the surprise package.
5. Bray Wanderers
7. Sligo Rovers
8. Galway United
9. Longford Town
10. Derry City
11. Wexford Youths
12. Finn Harps