Waking up on the Monday morning in a cold box room, head pounding, jocks sullied and not a trophy to my name – I began to really question the reason behind why I follow football, why we do it, why we love it, why we spend every aching second fretting over signings, results, jerseys and what not? It is a powerful force that can grip your life and bring you deep into the depths of hell, or lift you up above the shoulders of giants – an invincible feeling that is unrivalled (sexual intercourse and yokes aside).
So ‘we go again in 2022’, a phrase I have learned to love and hate, forged in heartbreak many years ago but still I have no other available expression for this year’s League of Ireland campaign.
We at Dublin 7 are forever being told about our massive yearly “rebuild”, but one glance around the island and it’s clear we are not alone in this painful process. An exodus akin to the Flight of the Earls in the 17th century has left the league in a weaker position as our best talents seek refuge and better pastures – many deserved and well earned. Although we are delighted to see young players get their dream move, it is on the back of buy-out clauses, poorly arranged deals and agents having a good laugh at us all. A merry-go-round of managers and players exiting has seen squads torn to shreds, and loanees from the UK propping up the sides for 2022.
So where do we start?
With club captain Keith Buckley, the league’s top scorer Georgie Kelly, Ireland U21 star man Ross Tierney, vice-captain and part-time model Rob Cornwall, and blockbuster defender Tony Breslin all away whilst we await living embodiment of a silky number 8, Dawson Devoy, potentially being next out the door to join the ranks at a soulless MK Dons, it is hard not to be concerned about Bohemian FC ahead of 2022. We have always relied on youth, players who know the club, and a backroom team capable of doing magic tricks, but last year it seemed pulling a rabbit out of your arse was more difficult than previous seasons. But that said, it is a team stacked with quality still.
Acquisitions like Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, JJ McKiernan, Ryan Cassidy, Jordan Doherty and Kris Twardek give me reason to believe we can challenge again. Although I am forever pessimistic about loanees, it seems there was no other option this year for manager Keith Long. We as fans waited with bated breath to see if Dan Casey would reappear, only for him to re-join Sacramento in the USA. In return we got the unknown Grant Horton, not the fund management company, the centre half – if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. I’m tipping him for big things nonetheless – this is my trench for 2022.
It’s a team that’s undoubtedly talented but lacking leaders, big characters and experienced winners, which was the difference in our failed cup final. I question our evening training, and what the effect that has on signing players. There is no doubt about our finances, but it is our ambition that seems questionable right now. Losing Breslin to Pats was tough to take. Losing Lyons to Rovers gives us reason for hate. But this team has the potential to achieve once again given the losses to other squads around the league.
Key Man: Ali Coote – Position: 3rd – Ones to watch: JJ McKiernan/Ryan Cassidy
We in the capital rolled our eyes when we had read that Derry City’s owner Philip O ’Doherty had sold his company and was propping up the Candystripes with a cash injection. It was just typical that the league’s biggest shithouses would come into millions. Bringing home the McEleney brothers, Michael Duffy, midfield maestro Will Patching and keeping the core of their 2021 squad leaves Derry in a favourable position for the top 3, however it is not the swooping overload of talent we feared. Despite the talk, Georgie Kelly did not make his way to the Foyleside outfit, but has signed for Rotherham, a nothing club which makes you think what the league is really worth.
Key Man: Will Patching – Position: 2nd – Ones to watch: Jamie McGonigle/Brian Maher
With the War of Independence concluded, the ungrateful Dundalk fans who lapped up the success of PEAKE 6 now have their club back. A new consortium with former board members such as Martin Connolly have backed ‘The Town’ and sent the Yanks home so there is good reason to be hopeful for the Lilywhites. They’ve snatched O’Donnell, Benson, Bone and John Mountney from Pats to bolster the ranks of a squad low on morale, which may also be the reason they signed Keith Ward, the overweight playmaker known for a good giggle in the dressing room, he departs Dublin 7 on the back of missing an open goal & a cup final peno – cheers Wardy.
Like many others, loanees are swelling the squad numbers. Thirty-year-old centre half Mark Connolly, returning home from the SPL, Brian Gartland back from injury and Andy Boyle provide no shortage of experience in the Dundalk back line, (something I am not short of envy for right now). Adding to a forward line of Pat Hoban and David McMillan is John Martin – this side will not be short on goals. Dundalk’s downfall over recent times has been their goalkeeping situation, with Nathan Sheppard and Peter Cherrie set to compete for the No.1 shirt this season.
Key Man: Robbie Benson – Position: 5th – Ones to watch: Mark Connolly/Paul Doyle
Down the M1 to Drogheda we go, and with manager Tim Clancy’s departure to St Pats along with top scorer Mark Doyle, it has left the Drogs lacking fire power and key players going into 2022. James Brown choosing to play with Ben Brereton Diaz over Kevin Doherty and Daire Doyle was an opportunity not to be passed up, with zero compensation for the Louth club making matters worse. Killian Philips joining Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace, Daniel O’Reilly moving to the SPL and Conor Kane siding with Damian Duff’s Shelbourne this year all take chunks out of the armour.
No doubt they will rely on key men like Dane Massey, Deegan and Chris Lyons to rally the troops along with 36-year-old Keith Cowan returning from his spell in the Danske Bank League, with former Finn Harps man Adam Foley and Longford playmaker Dylan Grimes giving some bite to the attack. It could be a tough year for a decimated Drogheda side.
Key Man: David Odomusu – Position: 9th – Ones to watch: Adam Weir/Dylan Grimes
I often wonder how anyone signs for Finn Harps – what is the appeal of playing in a town that has a feel about it that somebody was murdered, and everyone is in on it? Nevertheless Ollie Horgan time and again pulls it off. This year they’ve lost a lot of quality in Sadiki, Mark Coyle, Tunde and Shane McEleney all departing, but Ollie doesn’t stop.
Unknown to the LOI, signings in the form of Jose Carrillo, Erol Alkin and a Croatian Centre Forward I am unable to spell… along with former Bohs, Linfield and Waterford charlatan Bastian Hery will give Harps fans reasons to believe they will live to fight another year. It’s something they do best, and with a tough campaign ahead, they will no doubt relish a scrap ‘till the death. There is something admirable about the Donegal side, and a four-hour bus up and back to lose 1-0 gives me plenty of time to wonder why.
Key Man: Ryan Connolly – Position: 8th – Ones to watch: Erol Alkan/Bastian Hery
Down the canal lies newly promoted Shelbourne, and after years of slagging Bohs over community focus, initiatives with craft beers and teaming up with local suppliers, it appears the auld Reds have finally copped on to the idea that a football club is more than just 90 minutes. Damian Duff gives a good reason for hype and hope with plenty of new faces drawn to the former Ringsend club. Conor Kane, Mark Coyle, Sean Boyd, Aodh Dervin, Jack Moylan and the highly-tipped Aaron O’Driscoll all come to the club well rated. Dan Carr the latest man in the door, despite little football since he left Rovers in 2019. Shels fans can undoubtedly expect a different return compared to their last two ventures into the top flight of Irish football which both ended in being hilariously relegated – but I think this squad is lacking in quality forward options to mount any sort of challenge for the top four
Key man: Mark Coyle – Position: 7th – Ones to watch: Aaron O’Driscoll/Jack Moylan
Cup winners St Pats were left disgusted over Stephen O’Donnell’s departure and having left most of the squad unsigned for 2022, a new dynamic to the fixture list means the four games against Dundalk this year will be extra spicy. Similar to Bohs, it’s a side that has lost so many key players; Lee Desmond choosing America, Benson back to Dundalk with Bone and Mountney, a massive loss in Jaros home to his parent club Liverpool and Matty Smith still being undecided meant new boss Tim Clancy had a job on his hands. But Eoin Doyle returning to Ireland along with Tunde Awolabi and Mark Doyle bring a new-look forward line with both experience, strength and pace. The highly-rated Breslin chose a wage increase at the Saints, whilst Adam O’Reilly returns to the LOI to replace the excellent Alfie Lewis.
A new look Pats will be eager to compete once again, but like many sides torn apart, we wonder how long it will take to gel. It could be a transition year for the Saints after the O’Donnell era.
Key Man: Darragh Burns – Position: 4th – Ones to watch: Joe Redmond/Adam O’Reilly
Shamrock Rovers quickly got Jack Byrne back in their ranks after his piss-up with Mick McCarthy went painfully wrong in Cyprus – a move that is clearly cementing their financial dominance for 2022 and many punters fear that this side could easily win the league by 20+ points.
Having had moves to the UK lined up for the last three years, former Bohemians second choice right-full Andy Lyons decided to switch to the south Dublin club despite training with Bohs and allegedly lying about resigning, a move that has not gone down well in Dublin 7. However, many in Dalymount will tell you that Lyons regressed massively in the last season and a tendency to concede goals at the back post won’t be missed in Phibsborough.
Key Man: Jack Byrne – Position 1st: – One to watch: Barry Cotter
Liam Buckley’s Sligo side achieved a European spot despite a gruelling summer slog and will be an interesting watch in 2022. Aidan Keena’s arrival to fill the Romeo Parks void is one to be interested in whilst Will Fitzgerald and Karl O’Sullivan offer the Bit O’Red some needed width. The loss of John Mahon and his mullet to St Johnstone will be huge – the partnership with Gary Buckley was second to none for the best part of 2021, and Ed McGinty in goal behind them was solid as ever.
Sligo usually pull something out of the bag, a team that always has a surprise and flair in them, but losing Jonny Kenny to Celtic for a measly 150k is the prime example of the UK raid on our best young talents. For as long as I remember Sligo teams always hosted a few leftfield type players that excited the punters, this side seems a lot closer to home & with that a real vanilla vibe on paper. I’m feeling a mixed year for the Bit O’Red.
Key Man: Greg Bolger, Position 6th: – Ones to watch: Aidan Keena
Last and most certainly least is UCD. The Students were carried into the top flight with goals from Colm Whelan, Liam Kerrigan and Paul Doyle who is now at Dundalk. A side obviously lacking any sort of experience and character will, as always, struggle with the big boys. Most teams will see UCD as 12 points, and rightly so, but star this paragraph as Bohs draw 0-0 away and lose 1-0 at home at some stage in the season ahead. I believe we play them away on Gold Cup Day, now a national holiday for the drinking class – many will be doing well to leave the pub for that.
Key Man: Colm Whelan – Position: 10th – Ones to watch: Liam Kerrigan/Sam Todd
So as the 2022 season draws closer, we, the ever-present losers that follow it, await its kick-off under the lights which we’ve always been drawn to. Many arrive optimistic, many pessimistic, but we all show up to follow our sides once more.
They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, so sign me up because I’m mental as anything.