Gavin White previews the League of Ireland season.

This off-season felt longer than usual. Friday nights defined by something different, but a winter defined by trials and tribulations from the game’s governing body. Are we in a better place now than when we were after Shamrock Rovers won their first FAI Cup in decades? Only time will tell, but this season is set to be defined by one thing which will have fair reaching effects. 

Between Rovers’ likely title challenge, Bohs’ European push, St Patrick’s Athletic annual reinvestment and the reemergence of Shelbourne, the Dublin derbies in 2020 will hold the key to where the title, European spots and of course, the bragging rights go to. 

The Hoops recently overcame a hoodoo with Bohs which seemed to last an eternity and halted their title progress year after year. The FAI Cup semi-final in Dalymount Park at the end of last season seemed to signify they mean business now. Could this be their year once more? At Landsdowne Road in November, their marginal win over Dundalk seemed to to show they are ready for the next step. 

What Dundalk hold in their favour, however, is the lack of constant ferocious and unpredictable Dublin derbies. A derby is a derby, and anything can happen. One bad move in front of a sold out Dalymount Park on Saturday and they can find themselves back at square one. All the post-Cup enthusiasm, gone in one fell swoop. It’s a dangerous start for Stephen Bradley’s men but a win in Phibsborough come 4pm on Saturday and it’ll be a massive statement of intent. 

Shels come into the situation as a relative unknown quantity topped with much excitement and rejuvenation among their fanbase. With 13 league titles to their name, the Reds have a history of success and last year’s redemption while winning the First Division by nine points could be the springboard to bring Ian Morris’ squad back to where they feel they belong. 

For the other Dublin clubs, facing the now relegated UCD and playing Shels is a totally different proposition. The squad that Morris has assembled, a real mix of youth and experience, will be looking to cement their place in the top division with derby wins a prime objective on that list. Rovers’ last game of the season comes at Tolka Park, and if there is something to be played for there, the task is made even more difficult given the location and history between the clubs.

Bohs squad of 26 players looks set to see them wanting to push on and should embrace their European adventure in the knowledge they’ve got the squad to back up the hectic schedule. On their heels, however, will be Declan Devine’s Derry City, who, provided they will be able to replace the goal scoring heroics of David Parkhouse, should be able to build on last year’s success. Their opening night fixture with Dundalk should give us an excellent indication of where both teams stand.

Vinny Perth’s off-field business shows ambitions for more European nights brought to Oriel. Their league win last year should not be dismissed, but while they focus this year on continental exploits, Rovers will be looking to pounce on every opportunity they can. 

A lot of this year’s intrigue will come from Neale Fenn’s Cork City, Liam Buckley’s Sligo Rovers, Alan Reynold’s Waterford and Ollie Horgan’s Finn Harps. Harps’ signing of Barry McNammee is a real coup, providing serious quality from a lad who will feel at home once more in his native county while Sligo and Waterford have also signed impressively, none more so than Tyreke Wilson for the Blues. Both managers have been there, done that, meaning added with Cork’s unknown mix of new players and manager, all places from third down to tenth, could literally be anyone’s game. One thing’s for sure though, the 2020 Dublin derbies look set to set the league alight and prove the making and breaking of each of the four teams from the capital. 

Although sometimes known for being one half of electronic music group White Collar Boy, Gavin White is a journalist who has written for the Irish Independent and Extratime.

Images by Martin Doherty Sports
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