Conversations over the failings of the League of Ireland have become tired and ultimately boring. The Irish football public has spent many years counting the costs of gross mismanagement at all levels of the sport and saw the commercial strength of the game rise to stratospheric levels across the Irish sea in the UK.
With English Premier League clubs becoming more and more revenue obsessed, it is the job of the League of Ireland fan, commentator, player, official and coach to sell their league as best they can. Show how we all fell in love with Friday nights under the lights.
Several developments at clubs around the country and an influx of new, young exciting players into both the Premier Division and First Division make the 2019 season particularly mouth watering. The much talked about Jack Byrne has signed with Shamrock Rovers after spells with Manchester City and Wigan Athletic, while Chris Forrester has made the move back home to St Patrick’s Athletic who have turned full-time under Harry Kenny. These two marquee signings along with a host of other changes at each club suggest a breaking of the Cork-Dundalk duopoly could be on the cards.
The @SSEAirtricityLg 2019 season is launched today! 🙌
— SSE Airtricity League (@SSEAirtricityLg) February 12, 2019
The Inchicore side guided by Kenny look particularly potent with signings including Rhys McCabe from Sligo Rovers who has looked exceptional in pre-season. Brandon Miele has also signed with Pats from Shamrock Rovers in a real statement of intent. With goals expected to come from Mikey Drennan, also signed from Sligo, and the midfield power of Forrester and Miele, they will surely be challenging for honours again.
Rovers will be also hoping to also break into the the title challengers once more with the aforementioned Byrne as well as Aaron McEneff who has arrived from Derry City. Mystery still remains over a striker who is expected to sign for the club. The club is awaiting clearance for Austrian triallist Orhan Vojic who was most recently with Wolfsburg’s reserves. Off the pitch, excitement continues to surround the club with the announcement of the plans to build a fourth stand at Tallaght Stadium which, if nothing else, will contain the atmosphere inside the ground and be an even bigger attraction for new fans in the area to start making a regular Friday night appearance on the terraces.
The Tallaght stadium development isn’t the only planned infrastructure that will be enhancing the game in the coming years with Finn Harps and Drogheda United stadiums mooted and the Shelbourne-Bohemians Dalymount proposal still on the cards. The Donegal Stadium, which will be the new Harps ground, is coming at a time of buoyancy for the Ballybofey club. Coming through the much dreaded play-offs of the First Division, they will travel to Dalymount Park for their first game with a squad filled with both youth and experience. Raffaele Cretaro joins from Sligo while Longford duo Sam Verdon and Daniel O’Reilly join Ollie Horgan’s ranks.
With the recent trend of Republic of Ireland internationals coming from the league, it has become more of an attraction for English based players to return home. Twenty-year-old Danny Mandroiu has signed for Bohemians after a spell with Chris Hughton’s Brighton & Hove Albion promising real talent for the Phibsborough side. Mandroiu joins Jack Byrne and Chris Forrester coming from the UK while Bohs have also signed 20-year-old Scottish midfielder Scott Allardice whose had previous spells with Dundee United and Dumbarton.
English attacking-midfielder James Tilley has signed on loan from Brighton for Cork City as they look to find goals after some high-profile departures. Other new signings in Dairé O’Connor (UCD), and Liam Nash (Gillingham) look like they offer potential for the Rebels.
Traditional rivals Dundalk, meanwhile, have gone for continuity in the face of Stephen Kenny’s departure to the Republic Of Ireland set-up. Maintaining their rock-solid defence and holding on to Patrick Hoban and Jamie McGrath which surely leave them as favourites once more under new manager Vinny Perth.
The influx of players into the Premier Division has forced quality players into the First Division with the likes of Conan Byrne and Ryan Brennan joining Shelbourne from St Pats along with former Dundalk man Ciaran Kilduff who has signed with the Reds from Jacksonville Armada in the US. Bray Wanderers have signed Paul Keegan from Waterford along with Dylan McGlade from Longford which is hinting at a two-way battle, at least, for the Premier Division holy grail.
With elements at each club around the country to excite locals, this year more than ever, the league’s supporters should be armed with many arguments to convince their friends and family to join them in the stands. Attendances have been rising consistently in the past three years and with added infrastructure and exciting players, 2019 should live long in the memory for Irish football fans.
Although sometimes known for being one half of electronic music group White Collar Boy, Gavin White is a journalist for the Irish Independent and writes on football too for extratime.ie