The League of Ireland returns.
James Finnerty (Bohemians) and Aaron Greene (Shamrock Rovers) Bohemian FC v Shamrock Rovers Extra.ie FAI Senior Cup , Semi Final Dalymount Park 27th Sept 2019 Mandatory Credit Martin Doherty

Ryan Kilbane looks ahead to the big kick-off by examining the prospects of every top flight club including the coming and goings, key players and the ones to watch.

Bohemian FC

The Gypsies will be buoyed after their impressive 3rd place finish last year and will be looking to replicate if not better the feat. 2020 will see them return to Europe for the first time since the 2012/13 season and the additional prize money from Uefa could allow them to mount a charge on last season’s top two. 

Transfers in: Dan Casey (Cork City), Anto Breslin (Longford Town), Glen McAuley (St Patrick’s Athletic), JJ Lunney (Waterford), Kris Twardek (Sligo Rovers), Stephen McGuinness (Cabinteely), Ciaran Kelly (St Patrick’s Athletic) ,Callum Thompson (Wolves – Loan)

Transfers out: Scott Allardice (Waterford), Darragh Leahy (Dundalk) ,Derek Pender (retired) Ryan Swan (Warrenpoint Town)

Key Player: Daniel Mandroiu – The Ireland U21 international has become a key player in Bohs midfield since his return from Brighton at the beginning of 2019. He hit 11 goals last year including a double to win the Dublin derby against Shamrock Rovers in June. Another impressive season in 2020 will no doubt see UK clubs chasing his signature. 

One to watch: Anthony Breslin  – The 22 year old defender was brought in after impressing in the 1st Division for Longford Town last year. The ex-Wolves man’s potential is best shown by how little fuss has been made following Ireland U21 left full Darragh Leahy’s transfer to champions Dundalk. This could prove to be another shrewd signing by Keith Long.

2019 Position: 3rd Premier Division

2020 Expected position: 5th

Cork City

After an incredibly disappointing outing last season which saw the 2017 double winners finish 8th, Neale Fenn will be hoping his first full year as Cork manager will go a little better. The new board’s decision to reduce the first team budget may prove beneficial in the long run, but it means that the Leesiders will have to over perform heavily to be in the shake up for even the European spots. 

Transfers in: Cian Coleman (St. Patrick’s Athletic), Liam Bossin (Nottingham Forrest), Charlie Fleming (Cobh Ramblers), Rob Slevin (Waterford FC), Henry Ochieng (Wingate & Finchley FC), Dylan McGlade (Blyth Spartans), Conor Davis (Derry City), Corey Galvin (Waterford FC), Kyron Stabana (On loan from AFC Wimbledon), Reyon Dillon (Corinthians Casuals), Joe Redmond (On loan from Birmingham City).

Transfers out: Aaron Barry (Bray Wanderers), Conor McCarthy (St. Mirren), Colm Horgan (Derry City FC), Conor McCormack (Derry City), Shane Griffin (St. Patrick’s Athletic), Gary Buckley (Sligo Rovers), Pierce Philips (Cobh Ramblers), Karl Sheppard (Shelbourne), Eoghan Stokes (Unattached), Mark O’Sullivan (Unattached), Graham Cummins (Waterford FC).

Key Player: Gearóid Morrissey – Amid all the excitement around new signings and fresh faces, Neale Fenn will no doubt be most happy about the re-signing of Morrissey. The ex-Blackburn Rovers and Cambridge man has been made captain for 2020 and is one of the few remaining stars of the 2017 double win.  

One to watch: Dylan McGlade – The 24-year-old is linking up again with boss Neale Fenn after a fruitful spell at Longford in 2018 where he scored 16 goals and made 7 assists in the First Division. His career has been a bit stop-start until now but 2020 may be the year he announces himself as a Premier Division player. 

2019 Position: 8th – Premier Division 

2020 Expected position: 9th

Derry City

Declan Devine was lauded last year for bringing back the Derry spirit to the club while he guided them to a 4th place finish and back to the promised land of European football. The Candystripes announced that their budget will be increased by “30 per cent on last year” meaning they could be the biggest threat to the top two. They have once again signed well from outside the league and if the likes of Moussa Bakayoko and Tim Neilsen hit the ground running, they will be there or there about.

Transfers in: Walter Figueira (Waterford), Conor McCormack (Cork City), Conor Clifford (St Patrick’s Athletic), Stephen Mallon (Sheffield United – Loan), Colm Horgan (Cork City), Tim Nilsen (Friedrikstad FK), Danny Lupano (Hull City – Loan), Moussa Bakayoko (FC Shirak)

Transfers out: Conor McDermott (Cliftonville), Conor Davis (Cork City), Michael McCrudden (Cliftonville), Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe (Colchester – End of loan), Aidy Delap (Finn Harps – Loan)
Grant Gillespie (Ayr United)

Key Player: Conor McCormack – Resigned from Cork City and instantly reinstated as captain, the ex-Manchester United youth team player will bring experience and steel to a team with attacking threat in abundance.  

One to watch: Moussa Bakayoko – On paper the Ivory Coast youth international looks an interesting signing. The winger will have big boots to fill following the loss of the League’s top scorer Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe but his form in the Armenian top flight since 2016 has been credible, bagging 20 goals and 13 assist in 82 games

2019 Position: 4th 

2020 Expected position: 3rd

Andy Boyle ( Dundalk) on the ball Bohemian FC v Dundalk FC SSE Airtricity League Premier Division Dalymount Park 11th October 2019 Mandatory Credit Martin Doherty

Dundalk

The reigning champions return as the bookies’ favourites again this year and it is hard to look past them for a third title in a row. Fresh from a pre-season training camp in Spain where they had games against high calibre opposition in CSKA Moscow and CFR Cluj, Vinny Perth’s side will be hoping to hit the ground running with a victory on Friday against Derry City. As in previous years success will be based on the club’s fortunes in Europe, not just domestically.

Transfers in: Cammy Smith (Dundee United), Greg Sloggett (Derry City), Darragh Leahy (Bohemians), Will Patching (Unattached), Stefan Colovic (Proleter Novi Sad)

Transfers out:

Robbie Benson (St Patrick’s Athletic), Dean Jarvis (Larne), Cameron Dummigan (Crusaders), Dylan Hand (Longford Town), Aaron McNally (Longford Town), Ross Treacy (Drogheda United), Stephen Folan.  

Key Player: Michael Duffy – The Derry native has been one of the division’s top performers in recent years and expect 2020 to be no different. He will be looking to reach double figures for goals for the third year in a row and will be a key part of the Louth side’s European adventure. Duffy scored in the game against Slovan Bratislva last season and bagged a memorable volley against Levadia Tallinn in 2018. 

One to watch: Stefan Colovic – Probably the most interesting arrival to the league during the off-season, the 25-year-old Serbian arrived on a two year deal from Serbian top flight side Proleter Novi Sad. It appears to be quite the coup for the holders as it was reported he turned down offers from Korea and elsewhere in Europe. 

2019 Position: 1st Premier Division

2020 Expected position 1st 

Finn Harps 

It took a win in the playoffs against Drogheda United to secure their top flight status for this year and the Ballybofey side could well be in a similar position come October. Many people’s tip to go down, Ollie Horgan will be hoping his battle-hardened squad can escape again.  

Transfers in: Ryan Connolly (Unattached), David Webster (St Pats), Aidy Delap (Derry City – Loan), Shane McEleney (Larne), Karl O’Sullivan (Limerick), Kosovar Sadiki (Hibernian – Loan) 
Shaun Kelly (Limerick)

Transfers out: Keith Cowan (Glentoran), Mikey Place (Galway United), Daniel O’Reilly (Shelbourne), Joshua Smith (Galway United), Raffaele Cretaro (Retired), Nathan Boyle (Unattached), Harry Ashcroft (Dandenong Thunder), Colm Deasy (Warrenpoint Town)

Key Player: Barry McNamee – One of the more surprising transfers this year. Harps have signed midfielder Barry McNamee from neighbours Derry City. Long considered one of the best technicians around the League, the ex-Ireland U21 cap spoke about how “in the end I went with my gut” when choosing who to sign for. A Donegal native himself he could be the difference in whether the county hosts top flight football next year or not. 

One to watch: Kosovar Sadik – The imposing centre-half was signed on loan to bolster Harps’ backline. Capped at youth level by Canada he could go some way to replacing Keith Cowan who ha’s joined Glentoran

2019 Position: 9th

2020 Expected position: 10th 

Shamrock Rovers 

2019 proved to be a momentous year for Shamrock Rovers winning their first FAI cup since 1986/87 and performing well in Europe but it was in the league where they flattered to deceive. They were infamously 13 points clear of Dundalk but fell away dramatically to end up 9 points back. Manager Stephen Bradley will be hoping to close the gap. 

Transfers in: Rhys Marshall (Glenavon), Liam Scales (UCD)

Transfers out: Sam Bone (Waterford), Sean Boyd (Unattached), Ethan Boyle (Linfield), Graham Cummins (Waterford), Ohran Vojic (Unattached)

Key Player: Jack Byrne – The 2019 player of the year was the most talked about man in the League of Ireland last year. When it was announced he was returning from the UK to Rovers there were question marks about his attitude coming from some corners. Byrne proved the doubters wrong and picked up his first Ireland cap in due course. He will be vital in the bid to close to gap on Dundalk.

One to watch:  Neil Farrugia – The winger joined half way through last season from UCD with Gary O’Neill but his initial progress was halted by injury. The 20-year-old found his fitness and made a handful of appearances for the Hoops towards the back end of 2019. Big things are expected from him this year. 

2019 Position: 2nd

2020 Expected position: 2nd

Shelbourne 

The Reds will be looking to translate their excellent form which saw them win the First Division by 9 points last year. This will be manager Ian Morris’ first taste of Premier Division football from the touchline and he will be hoping the core of his promotion team with a smattering of new signings will be enough to preserve their status. 

Transfers in:

Gary Deegan (Cambridge United), Jack Brady (Limerick), Aaron Dobbs (Longford Town), Karl Sheppard (Cork City), Daniel O’Reilly (Finn Harps), Georgie Poynton (Waterford).

Transfers out: Conan Byrne (Glenavon), John Ross Wilson (Bray Wanderers), Derek Prendergast (Drogheda United), Craig Giles (Wexford), James English (Longford Town), Alan Byrne (St. Mochta), Gregory Moorhouse (Glenavon), Darragh Noone (Sligo Rovers), Reece McEnteer (Unattached), Dean Delany (Retired), Flavio Marku

Key Player: Ciaran Killduff – With almost 200 Premier Division appearances to his name, Killduff’s experience will be vital. His 13 goals last time out went some way to sealing the First Division title and if he can repeat that tally it will go a long way to sealing Shels’ safety. 

One to watch:  Jaze Kabia – Son of former League of Ireland player Jason Kabia the 19-year-old could well have a breakout year. He was signed from Cobh Ramblers mid way through last season after scoring 4 goals in 5 league games for the Rams. The Shels faithful will be hoping the youngster continues his upward trajectory. 

2019 Position: First Division Winners

2020 Expected position: 9th

Sligo Rovers

On paper at least this looks like one of the more unconvincing squads Sligo Rovers have had in recent years. Liam Buckley will have to use all his experience and tactical acumen to guide them to safety. He has not been helped by the departures off striker Romeo Parkes and centre back Dante Leverock and the injury to defender John Mahon during pre season. The signing of Garry Buckley from Cork City may prove to be shrewd.  

Transfers in: Darragh Noone (Shelbourne), Will Seymore (Reno 1968), Garry Buckley (Cork City), Teemu Penningkangas (FC Lahti), Jesse Devers (Manulla).

Transfers out: Dante Leverock (Radomiak Radom), Sam Warde (Galway United), Kris Twardek (Bohemians), Romeo Parkes (New Mexico United), Daryl Fordyce (Valour FC).  

Key Player: David Cawley – Cawley has become a stalwart for the Bit o’Red since he returned to the club in 2018. Liam Buckley will be looking for him to control the midfield and implement his game plan of passing football. 

One to watch: Ronan Murray – The departure of last year’s top scorer Parkes has left the door open for a new attacking hero to announce himself and it could be Murray. He only managed one league goal last year but does have previous from 2017 were he scored 13 for an eventually relegated Galway United.

2019 Position: 7th

2020 Expected position: 6th

St Patrick’s Athletic 

Stephen O’Donnell has wasted no time in stamping his impression on the squad with numerous incoming and outgoing since he got the job in August. With his first pre-season completed the ex-Dundalk captain will be looking to implement his own style of play in the hope they will go at least one better from last year. Their 5th placed finish meant that they missed out on Europa League qualification to Derry City. 

Key Player: Robbie Benson – On his day the Athlone man is arguably the best central midfielder in league. Stephen O’Donnell will be hoping Benson will be the standard setter as the Inchicore men are looking to get back challenging for European football after missing out in 2019. 

One to watch: Billy King – The ex-Rangers and Hearts wide man comes with a good pedigree having played over 180 first team games in Scotland. The Pats supporters will be hoping he can supply some magic moments from wide which was something they lacked at times under Harry Kenny who preferred a 3-5-2.

2019 Position: 5th

2020 Expected position: 5th

Waterford

There had been worrying rumours in the off season that owner Lee Power was thinking about winding down his involvement with the Munster club. While their budget appears to have been reduced and players have left, manager Alan Reynolds will be hopeful that his new signings will maintain their competitiveness that saw the Blues finish 6th last year. 

Transfers in: Sam Bone (Shamrock Rovers), Scott Allardice (Bohemians), Graham Cummins (Cork City), Tadgh Ryan (Cork City), Kevin O’Connor (Preston North End – Loan), Michael O’Connor (Linfield – Loan), Robbie McCourt (Tolka Rovers), Ali Cootes (Brentford B), Matty Smith (Dundee United), Tyreke Wilson (Manchester City).

Transfers out: Rory Feely (St Patrick’s Athletic), Shane Duggan (Galway United), JJ Lunney (Bohemians), Zack Elbouzedi (Lincoln City), Dean O’Halloran (Galway United), Cory Galvin (Cork City), Georgie Poynton (Shelbourne), Rob Slevin (Cork City), Colm Whelan (UCD), Kenny Browne (Retired), Maxim Kouguon (Harrogate Town), Walter Figueira (Derry City), Matt Connor (unattached)

Key Player: Kevin O’Connor – Signed from Preston North End, the 24-year-old is equally adept at full-back and midfield and his quality from open play and set pieces will be a huge threat for Waterford

One to watch: Will Fitzgerald – The winger was much sought after at the time when he left Limerick and was even named in the  Ireland U21 squad to play Luxembourg by boss Stephen Kenny in March. His progress stalled last year but a good run of games could see him fulfil that potential. 

2019 Position: 6th

2020 Expected position: 7th

All images by Martin Doherty Sports
A photographer with 
ExtraTime.ie. Find @martydot2 on Twitter, @martydot on Instagram or MartinDohertySportsPhotography on Facebook and visit his website

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