First Division Captains pictured at the new season launch
Limerick FC are preparing for their upcoming SSE Airtricity League First Division campaign which kicks off this week but face tough competition if they’re even to scrape into the playoffs.
As was the case for 2019, the top team in the division will automatically be promoted to the top tier, while the next three teams will play-off, with the winner facing the second-bottom side in the Premier Division.
The good news for Limerick is that they have a nice blend of youth and experience, but the bad news is that so do most other sides, in what looks like the most competitive First Division since the club was last denied promotion in 2011.
Here’s a team-by-team guide to the opposition ahead of the big kick-off:
The thing about the League of Ireland is, while you’re never more than a bad decision away from calamity, you’re never more than a couple of a months away from an accepted reset.
At time of writing, Athlone Town have just beaten Dundalk in a Leinster Senior Cup tie – only the second game they’ve won in eighteen months.
The days of them rolling over are gone, and they’ve got sprinkles of quality in and around their squad for the first time in a while.
Terry Butler gave a refreshingly honest interview in the FAI’s podcast last week and he’s setting wheels in motion for a re-jig.
This will be a different animal.
Keeping in line with the theme of re-jigs, Bray Wanderers were disgracefully discarded from the top tier last year following an implosion at board level.
Towards the end of the season, Wanderers seemed to get their house in order and there’s more of a goodwill feel around the place now.
They’ve made some clever signings and have goals to boot – Ger Pender and Jake Ellis provided firepower regardless, but the signing of Joe Doyle from Cabinteely raises some eyebrows.
Add in Dylan McGlade and they’ll firmly be in the mix.
Cabinteely still feel like a project. They’re a very well-run club and have been a welcome addition to the league, but without harnessing support, their underage teams will always be their primary focus.
They’ve welcomed back most of their players from a year ago, which, theoretically at least, will not see them progress up a league table that’s filled with even more competitive sides than it was in 2018.
Stradbrook doesn’t entice any visiting teams which occasionally plays into their hands, but Cabinteely are the last remaining remnant of the old First Division, even if they’re progressive and have good resources in place.
It’s difficult to gauge Cobh, but it’s even more difficult for Cobh to gauge themselves. Ramblers lose players every single year but this campaign sees them without seemingly more ever-presents than usual.
Ian Mylod took to Twitter to air his displeasure about on-goings with his former manager Stephen Henderson, and there is a sense of unrest there.
But the players on the pitch will be drilled – as shown by their turnover of Limerick in the EA Sports Cup last year.
Drogheda, if they can get him right, have the best player in the league in Thomas Byrne.
After that, nobody really knows what’s going on at United Park. They’re very much an unknown commodity, but they were at this time last year and nearly got promoted.
Their squad doesn’t offer them much promotion hope, but teams really don’t like going to United Park because of its unique perks, and that alone stands them in better stead than some.
Apart from having about thirty players signed on a small budget, Galway will fall for the same reasons they usually do – the lack of fire in the side.
Vinny Faherty is a sublime addition, as is the return of Kevin Horgan, but ultimately, they’ll fall short because of no bite and a playing surface that allows the bigger sides to play their brand of football without a second thought.
Alan Murphy has got a tough job on his hands to manage expectations, and even though their squad may be in the top half in terms of quality, they’ll likely falter due to the culture.
Conan Byrne rightly spoke about how Longford will be the best footballing side in the division this year and he’s probably right.
Neale Fenn makes Longford very easy to watch, and despite the loss of key player Dylan McGlade to Bray, their football alone will see them rise to a level above most.
Paul O’Conor, Chris Mulhall and Conor Kenna add serious experience to add to the promising youth that surfaced last year, which puts them in the conversation for promotion. Keen an eye on Aaron Dobbs.
When you read these names, Dean Delany; Luke Byrne; Dan Byrne; Derek Prendergast; Lorcan Fitzgerald; Aidan Friel; Oscar Brennan; Darragh Noone; Ryan Brennan; Karl Moore; Paddy Kavanagh; Alex O’Hanlon; Conan Byrne; Greg Moorhouse; David O’Sullivan; James English; Ciaran Kilduff, you realise this could be a bigger divisional rout than Limerick’s in 2016.
Realistically, nobody knows what’s going on in Wexford. But they do have Danny Furlong, who could score 20 goals by himself. So, there’s that.