Exciting signings to make for an exciting Airtricity League Season

March 19th is almost upon us. The day when Irish football fans will take deep breaths while some may be holding their granny’s rosary beads as the referee blows the whistle to kick off the 2021 Airtricity League Season.

And what a cracker of a game we have to start things off as Shamrock Rovers play host to Saint Patrick’s Athletic in Tallaght Stadium. Matches between these two sides are always hotly contested, with the players on both sides giving their all leading to a frenetic high intensity battle over 90 minutes.

This time, 12 months ago, the Airtricity League Season had been well underway having started on February 14th and as fans of local rivals Bohemian FC and Shelbourne marched up to Dalymount Park on Friday March 6th, the fear in the air was palpable. I don’t think anyone in Phibsborough that night had any true inkling as to what was unfolding as the entire league campaign was to be suspended six days later due to Covid19. However, while fans could not be present at the games, the new Watch LOI service meant fans would not miss a minute of the action in the Airtricity League Premier Division when fixtures resumed on July 31st.

The previous seasons had an air of predictability about them; Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers zooming ahead with quite a gap between them and the other sides. However, this time around, when Bohemians put Dundalk to the Sword on August 7th, and St. Pat’s drew with Rovers a week later, things were tighter at the top than a parking space in Merrion Square. And with just two games to go, there was 4 teams who were in the hunt for the third and final European spot, which was clinched by Dundalk. The fact that just 5 points separated Dundalk in 3rd place from Finn Harps in 8th, and the large number of ‘neutral’ football fans who took out a Watchloi subscription, further underlined this fact. The quality of talent contained within the teams in the league, as the 2020 season drew to a close, was already seen by many as the best witnessed in many a year.
 

2021 Season Preview & Predictions

As the 2021 season is upon us, the clubs have taken out their chequebooks and their new signings have taken things to another level. Many of us in GeoDirectory are avid football fans and we can’t wait for the new season to begin. We invite you to read our Preview Guide and our predictions. Feel free to tweet us your thoughts on our predictions @GeoDirectory.
 

DERRY CITY

NEW SIGNINGS:
MARK WALSH (MF) FROM SWANSEA (ROI U-17 INTERNATIONAL)
WILLIAM FITZGERALD (MF) FROM WATERFORD (ROI U-21 INTERNATIONAL)
WILL PATCHING (MF –LOAN) FROM DUNDALK.  EX MAN CITY AND NOTTS COUNTY.
JOE HODGE (MF – LOAN) MANCHESTER CITY AND ROI U-19
DANNY LUPANO (DF – LOAN) HULL CITY
DAVID PARKHOUSE FWD – SHEFFIELD UNITED
DANNY LAFFERTY DF – SHAMROCK ROVERS
KEY PLAYERS: CIARAN HARKIN, JAMES AKINTUNDE
MANAGER: DECLAN DEVINE
2020 PLACING – 7th
 
ezgif-com-gif-maker-(49).jpgDerry City are a side that will always give their opponents a right game of it and never make things easy for opponents. While a 7th placed finish would normally have the passionate fans of the Candystripes calling for heads to role, the fact that they were only 5 points behind 3rd placed Dundalk in the end, left them feeling sanguine, instead of furious.

Manager Declan Devine has made some very promising forays into the transfer market with loan signings Joe Hodge from Manchester City and Mark Walsh from Swansea causing the most excitement for the fans. The departure of Walter Figueira to Sligo is a big blow, as his darting runs down the wing was a key part in many of the Derry City goals last season, while departure of Conor Clifford to Bray Wanderers, could also be keenly felt.

Peter Cherrie may be 38 – an eternity in football terms – but he is still a reliable pair of hands in front of goal and his departure to Dundalk, means Nathan Garthside has big boots to fill in the Number 1 jersey. The Brandywell faithful will be keeping their finger tightly crossed that Walsh and Hodge will more than make up for the their loss of Figueira and Clifford to the team. Make no doubt about it – while many are talking about the squads of Dundalk, Rovers and Bohemians, Derry are the Dark Horse with the potential to upend the consensus and finish within the top 3.
 

DROGHEDA UNITED

NEW SIGNINGS:
RONAN MURRAY FWD – SLIGO ROVERS
DANE MASSEY DF –DUNDALK
COLIN MCCABE GK – SHELBOURNE
DANIEL O’ REILLY DF – SHELBOURNE
GARY DEEGAN MF – SHELBOURNE
DINNY CORCORAN FWD- BOHEMIANS
DARRAGH MARKEY MF – ST. PATRICK’S ATHLETIC
KEY PLAYERS: GARY DEEGAN, DINNY CORCORAN
MANAGER: TIM CLANCY
2020 PLACING – 1ST IN 1ST DIVISION

ezgif-com-gif-maker-(47).jpgThe Boynesiders were promoted to the Premier Division after winning the league in a contest that went down to the wire with the Louth side seeing off Bray Wanders by just a single point with a 2-0 win over Cabinteely. Dane Massey, Gary Keegan and Dinny Corcoran are notable new signings, which will add extra steel to the side. If they are to avoid the drop this season, they will be undoubtedly relying on the prowess of Corcoran to hit the target as regularly as he did at former club Bohemians.

We all know that if a striker is to have an opportunity to score he has to have the ball at his feet and some worry that in many matches the Drogheda forward line will be rather isolated as they witness another 5-10 minute spell where they had not had proper sight nor sound of the ball. In Gary Deegan, they have a hard working midfielder who is adept at winning his side back the ball if they’ve lost it, so they will likely give a good account of themselves over 90 minutes.

While games against Drogheda might be tight affairs, a Mid-Table finish would mark an excellent season for Tim Clancy’s charges.
 

DUNDALK FC

JUNIOR OGEDI UZOWKE FWD – SLIGO ROVERS
TANER DOGAN MF – HARVARD UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL CLUB
PETER CHERRIE GF – DERRY CITY
ALLESSIO ABIBI GF – KASA KASTRIOTI KRUJE (ALBANIA)
SONNI NATTESTAD DF - b36 TORSHÁVN  (FAROE ISLANDS INTERNATIONAL)
OLE ERIK MIDTSKOGEN FWD – KI KLAKSVIK (FAROE ISLANDS)
SAM STANTON MF – PHEONIX RISING (SCOTLAND)
JESUS CHINO PEREZ  FWD  - TACOMA DEFIANCE (USA)
RAIVIS JURKOVSKIS  DF – FC LIJEPAJA (LATVIAN INTERNATIONAL
KEY PLAYERS: PATRICK HOBAN, DAVID MCMILLAN, CHRIS SHIELDS.
MANAGER: FILIPO GIOVAGNOLI
2020 LEAGUE STANDINGS:  FINISHED 3RD AND ONCE AGAIN QUALIFIED FOR EUROPE

ezgif-com-gif-maker-(50).jpgIf you were to describe Dundalk’s season in 2020 in two words, it would be topsy-turvy. The side were hot favourites to retain their league title in 2020 but results such as the 3-1 loss to Sligo Rovers in August, had the footballing fraternity picking their jaws up from the floor. Yet, by the final quarter of the season, they had re-found their mojo and were essentially impossible to beat. The 2021 iteration of Dundalk FC really is an unknown quantity overall.

The defensive spine that underpinned the side in the last few seasons has been smashed, with the departures of Dane Massey, Sean Hoare and Seán Gannon.  While defenders Raivis Jurkovskis, Sonny Natestand and Darragh Leahy are undoubtedly players of some quality; how long will it take for them to gel? This could be crucial to whether Dundalk win tight games by a single goal or draw 1-1, which in turn will affect their title chances. The Lilywhite faithful gave a mighty thumbs up when it was revealed that Junior Ogedwe Uzokwe had signed and hopes are high that he will replicate the goal scoring form that help Sligo Rovers claim a European spot last season.

With so many new signings coming from parts of the world where they would mostly likely have had zero knowledge of the Irish football scene, one has to be concerned as to the length of time it will take for them to find their feet. On the other hand, as Shamrock Rovers showed last season, a team can perform poorly on the day but a late 20 yard wonder strike out of nowhere, can bag the side what had seemed an unlikely 3 points, keeping their title hunt alive. We would not like to be in the shoes of the soccer pundit on TV or Radio who was asked to predict where Dundalk will finish up come October!
 

FINN HARPS

KEY PLAYERS: ETHAN BOYLE,
RYAN SHANLEY FWD (LOAN) - HIBERNAN FC (SCOTLAND)
NIALL MCGINLEY MF – DUNGANNON SWIFTS (N.I)
ETHAN BOYLE DF – LINFIELD (EX ROI U-21 INTERNATIONAL)
KEY PLAYERS: ETHAN BOYLE RUARI HARKIN
MANAGER: OLLIE HORGAN
LEAGUE PLACING 2020 – FINISHED 8TH
 
y9fYXZxb_400x400.jpgIf ever there was such a thing as a Footballing Alchemist, Ollie Horgan is it. Since they won promotion back to the top flight in 2018, the Ballybofey men were each year considered nailed-on relegation candidates by the pundits, but still managed to defy predications and secure their place in the Premier division for the next season.

Despite only having the fraction of the budget of the likes of Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers, Horgan has each season managed to assemble a mixture of youth and experienced elder journeymen, whom he bonds together into a tightly knit unit that give their all. The signing of Ethan Boyle from Shamrock Rovers will have done their survival prospects no harm at all.

The former ROI U-21 international is known for his excellent link up play with the midfield which will enhance Harp’s soak up the pressure and counter attack strategy.  Make no doubt about it, a trip to Finn Park in Donegal is a fixture no opposing team looks forward to; so don’t be surprised if the Harps once again avoid the drop come October.
 

LONGFORD TOWN

MICHAEL KELLY (GF) – CABINTEELY
CONOR DAVIS FWD – CORK CITY
AARON BOLGER MF – CARDIFF CITY (EX ROI U-19 INTERNATIONAL)
AARON ROBINSON MF – BLUEBELL UNITED
AARON O’ DRISCOLL (LOAN) DF – MANSFIELD TOWN
KEY PLAYERS: AARON BOLGER, DEAN ZAMBRA
MANAGER: DAIRE DOYLE
2021 LEAGUE PLACING – WON PLAYOFF V SHELBOURNE.

ezgif-com-gif-maker-(51).jpgDe Town surprised many people (there fans included) by gaining promotion last season. However, when one looks into the structures that have been put in place in the Bishopsgate Stadium, from Senior right down to Junior Level, it does not seem that surprising in the round.

The team managed to gain promotion with a mere +3 Goal difference tally is testament to Manager Daire Doyle, knitting together a side that rose to the challenge when required. They will be praying that Robert Manley and Sam Verdon can repeat, if not increase, their ten and six goal tallies from last season, if the Midlanders are to retain their Premier Division status in 2022.

The signing on loan of the Republic of Ireland U-19 player Aaron Bolger from Cardiff City was quite a coup and fans of De Town will hope his silky skills and crisp passing will be the catalyst to the side that sees it punch above its weight. However, the sum of the parts does not appear to equal a positive season being in store for Longford and it would not be a surprise if they were relegated or in the playoff’s by October.
 

SHAMROCK ROVERS

DANNY MANDRIOU MF – BOHEMIAN FC
SEÁN GANNON DF – DUNDALK
SEÁN HOARE DF – DUNDALK
CHRIS MCCANN MF – OLDHAM ATHLETIC (Ex ROI U-21 INTERNATIONAL)
KEY PLAYERS:  RONAN FINN, CHRIS MCCANN GRAHAM BURKE
MANAGER: STEPHEN BRADLEY
2020 LEAGUE PLACING – CLAIMED THE TITLE BY FINISHING 1ST

ezgif-com-gif-maker-(52).jpgThe Hoops steamrolled their way to the league title last season, finishing 11 points ahead of second-placed Bohemians an impressive goal difference of 38 over 18 games. Two key components of last year’s title winning side, Jack Byrne and Aaron McEniff have been sold on, leaving a sizable void in the team, while letting Thomas Oluwa move to arch rivals Bohemians may yet come back to haunt them.Danny Mandriou is undoubtedly a player of exceptional talent, but his off the field behaviour saw him fall out favour at Bohemians. If Shamrock rovers are to reclaim their league title, he will need to be firing on all cylinders, all of the time.  

The double capture of Gannon and Hoare from Dundalk has further strengthened an already iron clad defence and Gannon will be in a right battle with ROI U-21 International Liam Scales to earn the right to partner Player of the Year and Cape Verde International, Ricardo Lopez, in central defence. With Chris McCann now anchoring the Midfield, the chances of opposing teams even picking up a point in Tallaght, are now even slimmer.

And we haven’t even mentioned the likes of Dylan Watts, or Ronan Finn, players who would be key players in 7 of the other 10 teams in the Premier Division. As embarrassment of riches go, manager Stephen Bradley has quite the War Chest and we in Geodirectory would not be in anyway surprised if they were to retain their League Title.
 

SLIGO ROVERS

COLM HORGAN DF  - DERRY CITY            
RICHARD BRUSH GF – CLIFTONVILLE
WALTER FIGUEIRA MF – DERRY CITY
JORDAN GIBSON MF – SLIGO ROVERS
SHANE BLANEY DF – DONCASTER ROVERS
GREG BLOGER MF – SHAMROCK ROVERS
ROBBIE MCCOURT DEFENDER  -WATERFORD UNITED
ROMEO PARKES FWD – NEW MEXICO UNITED (USA) JAMAICAN INTERNATIONAL
KEY PLAYERS: RYAN DE VRIES, DAVID CAWLEY, WALTER FIGUEIRA
MANAGER: LIAM BUCKLEY
2020 LEAGUE STANDINGS: FINISHED 4TH

ezgif-com-gif-maker-(1).jpgBohemians were regarded as the surprise package of last season, Sligo were not too far behind them. Many pundit’s favourites to end up in the playoff spot, they excelled in finishing in 4th place, pipping Waterford on the final day of the season.

Liam Buckley is highly regarded manager in footballing circles and it is no surprise that he has the Bit o’ Red punching above their weight on the field. Without doubt, the signing of Walter Figuera is quite the coup; Derry City fans are still trying to come to terms with his loss. If the transfer rumour Twitter accounts are to be believed, there were numerous teams keen to add him to their squad.
If the former Chelsea Youth player, who qualifies to play for Angola, displays the same type of form as he did in a Derry city jersey last season, Sligo may once more be in the mix for a European place at the end of September. Though he is now 32, Greg Bolger is still rightly regarded as a key capture for the Sligomen as his experience on the pitch could prove vital in tense matches where cool heads are needed.

While the goalscoring exploits of the Junior Ogedi Uzowke will be sorely missed, it is hoped that the experienced New Zealander who has been capped once by his country will be able to fill that void. The common consensus would be that other teams have strengthened to the extent that the gulf between them and Sligo, on paper, has widened somewhat, and a European Spot will be out of their reach this time; Whether that will be the case only time will tell. What we do know is that, Liam Buckley at the helm, expect opposing teams to once again find it very tough going when playing at The Showgrounds.
 

SAINT PATRICK’S ATHLETIC

NAHUM MELVIN LAMBERT FWD (LOAN) – READING FC
PADDY BARRETT DF - PREAH KHAN SVAY RIENG  (CAMBODIA)
ALFIE LEWIS MF (LOAN) – WEST HAM UNITED
VITEZSLAV JAROS (LOAN) – LIVERPOOL FC. CZECH U-18 INTERNATIONAL
KEY PLAYERS:  CHRIS FORRESTER, ROBBIE BENSON
MANAGER: HARRY KENNY
LEAGUE PLACING 2020:  FINISH 6TH

ezgif-com-gif-maker-(56).jpgWhen walking through Inchicore you’ll be left wondering “Are my ears deceiving me; am I actually hearing the Fog horn at Dublin Port, as far away as Dublin 8?” The answer to your question is no – It’s just the collective groans of St. Patrick’s Athletic fans at their clubs lack of Transfer Market activity.

As the New Year approached, The Emmet Road club had lost some key members of last season’s squad to other clubs, but had little in the way of new signings coming in as replacements. A trio of quality loan signings have been announced since, most notable the arrival of West Ham United Midfielder Alfie Lewis. But three swallows a scorching hot summer does not make, so supporters of the Saints will be desperately hoping players from the clubs’ victorious 2020  Under-19 League Title Winning team step up to the Senior setup and make the sort of impact young players had at their rivals, Bohs.

The lack of a depth of quality down Richmond Park squad is quite glaring and one must have serious concerns that they could stay the course over a long hard season. For the club to be in a shout for Europe, Chris Forrester will need to rediscover the performance levels that had saw him being snapped up by Peterborough and then Aberdeen FC.

Robbie Benson is another player who has the ability to change a game on his own, but he was found wanting on numerous occasions last season. The loss of Rory Feely and Ollie younger at the back is of undoubted concern, but the signings of John Mountney and Ronan Coughlan are genuine positives. If Forrester and Benson are on form and produce their laser point passes, Coughlan is the type of Centre Forward who makes scoring from close range luck easy.  Last year some had tipped Saint Patrick’s as the Dark horse, for the title, no one is saying that now; and with good reason.
 

WATERFORD FC

KYLE FERGUSON DF – YTTERHOGDAL (SWEDEN)
JAMIE MASCOLL DF (LOAN) – BOLTON WANDERERS
JAIMES WAITE MF (LOAN) – CARDIFF CITY. WALES U-19 INTERNATIONAL
CIAN KAVANAGH MF – COWDENBEATH (SCOTLAND)
PRINCE MUTSWUNGUMU FWD – SAOHAM TOWN RANGERS
JACK STAFFORD – DF EXETER CITY
KATLEGO MASHIGO MF– BOHEMIAN FC 
KEY PLAYERS:  BRIAN MURPHY, DARYL MURPHY

ezgif-com-gif-maker-(57).jpgThe fans of the Blues were understandably gutted to have missed out on a European place by just a single point. The team recorded some notable wins last season, like that in Dalymount Park, which had been regarded as a fortress by many.

We talked about the problems faced by Saint Patrick’s Athletic due to the quality of players who have departed, this is an even graver situation for Waterford. The double capture of Tyreke Wilson and Ali Coote by Bohemians, in particular, has left fans of the Blues reeling. The return of Republic of Ireland international Daryl Murphy has been mostly welcomed, but some have expressed concern as to his fitness levels, given his age. Much travelled Prince Mutswungumu was voted as the best overseas player of Zimbabwean origin last year and it is hoped that he will quickly find his feet in a new league.

Oscar Brennan is another positive signing, a non-stop battler who keeps going til the end, the type of player you want in your squad when it’s 80 minutes on the clock up in Finn Park or The Showgrounds and your side is winning 1-0. While the loan singings are welcome, some worry that they would not have the experienced required to make the grade at this level. Mid-table obscurity seems to be the general prediction for the South-East side.
 

BOHEMIAN FC

BRADLEY ROLT (LOAN) FWD PETERBOROUGH
LIAM BURT MF – GLASGOW CELTIC
BASTION HÉRY MF – LINFIELD
STEPHEN MALLON MF – SHEFFIELD UNITED
RORY FEELY DF ST. PATRICK’S ATHLETIC
ALI COOTE MF – WATERFORD UNITED
THOMAS OLUWA FWD – WATERFORD UNITED
GEORGIE KELLY FWD – ST. PATRICK’S ATHLETIC
TYREKE WILSON DF – WATERFORD UNITED
KEY PLAYERS: JAMES TALBOT, KIETH BUCKLEY, KEITH WARD

bohemian.pngWithout doubt the overachievers of 2020 were Bohemian FC. Most pundits pick to finish in 6th place, the Gypsies fans were giving their eyes quite a rub on August 22nd, when they were within touching distance of Shamrock Rovers at the top. Eventually the lack of squad depth meant the tired legs and injuries to key players took their toll as they trailed their Tallaght rivals by 11 points at the finish.If the Saint Patrick’s Athletic were going round like a pre shirt-ripping Incredible Hulk, due to their lack of transfer activity, it was the complete opposite for the home fans 5km up the road.

As truly marquee singing after marquee singing -Tyreke Wilson, Bastion Héry, Liam Burt and others - were announced, fans of de Boez resembled an audience on the Oprah Show who’d just found out they’ve won a 5* holiday in Cancun. The departures of Danny Grant and Daragh Leahy are serious blows; players of their quality are not easy to replace, while the Phibsborough side might yet regret letting striker Dinny Corcoran leave and join Drogheda.

Unlike Dundalk,  while Bohemians have also brought in a raft of new signings, all bar two of them have spent numerous seasons playing in the Airtricity League, so it won’t be a culture shock to them; leading to less bedding in time than might be the case for the Lilywhites foreign cohort.
On various social media channels, Shamrock Rovers supporters were expressing their annoyance that the club let Thomas Oluwa move to their fiercest rivals, as they still rated him a quality player that they wished had stayed in Tallaght. He could yet prove to be the surprise package of the season.
On paper at least, Bohemians have what it takes to reclaim second spot next year and could be battling Rovers for the title come the start of October.

This season promises to be a cracking one, with the quality on display making upcoming matches beyond mouth-watering. With hopes high that fans will be back in the stadiums by the summer, might there be a surprise pair of hands lifting the league trophy to rapturous applause, from actual fellow human beings, around the stadium at seasons end?
 

FINAL PREDICTIONS

TITLE WINNERS: SHAMROCK ROVERS
OTHER TWO EUROPEAN COMPETITION SPOTS: BOHEMIANS DUNDALK (AND IF ONE OF THESE 3 WIN THE FAI CUP WE THINK DERRY CITY WILL CLAIM THE 4TH SPOT VIA FINISHING 4TH IN THE LEAGUE)  
RELEGATION SCRAPPERS: DROGHEDA, FINN HARPS, WATERFORD UNITED

What do you think of our analysis and predictions? Feel free to tweet us your thoughts @GeoDirectory!
  
If you liked this blog, you may be interested in our blog on the 5 Alternative Sports To Watch In Ireland.

Image sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohemian_F.C.#/media/File:BohemianDublin.png
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derry_City_F.C.#/media/File:Derry_City_FC_logo.png
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drogheda_United_F.C.#/media/File:Drogheda_United_FC.svg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dundalk_F.C.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longford_Town_F.C.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamrock_Rovers_F.C.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sligo_Rovers_F.C.#/media/File:Sligo_Rovers_FC_logo.svg
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Patrick%27s_Athletic_F.C.#/media/File:St._Patrick's_Athletic_F.C._crest.png
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterford_F.C.#/media/File:Badge_of_Waterford_FC.png
 
Posted: 09/03/2021 15:54:10


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