Football

A Bluffer's Season Preview For The 2021 League Of Ireland Season

A Bluffer's Season Preview For The 2021 League Of Ireland Season

Today's the day, folks.

After what seems like an eternity of an off-season, the League of Ireland is back for its centenary season.

Although fans are still absent from grounds, this has all the makings of a brilliant season in both the Premier and First Division.

Here at Balls.ie, we're going to run through each team in Ireland's Premier Division and predict where they'll end up come the winter.

Premier Division

Bohemians

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Andy Lyons of Bohemians. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The past two seasons have been something of a fairytale for the Phibsboro club, as Keith Long has continually assembled teams that punch well above their weight and budget.

This season will be the first since the halcyon days of Pat Fenlon's tenure where Bohs are truly expected to fight it out for the league title. The additions of Bastien Hery, Liam Burt and Stephen Mallon showcase a signal of intent, but Bohs have lost the likes of Andre Wright and Danny Grant to British clubs.

Regardless of who has come and gone, Keith Long's side will be competitive at the top end of the table, but a Premier Division title may just be a step too far for the North Dublin outfit.

Prediction: 3rd

Derry City

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Declan Devine's side were, by their own admission, atrocious last season, only confirming their Premier Division status on the last day of the season.

Thus, there's been something of an overhaul at the Ryan McBride Brandywell this season, with a youth movement replacing the departed experience of Ally Gilchrist, Gerardo Bruna, Peter Cherrie and Walter Figueira.

Nathan Gartside, a recent call up to the Northern Ireland senior squad, returning striker David Parkhouse, and most notably, Manchester City loanee Joe Hodge, will be expected to lead Derry back up the table, but a mid-table berth should probably be anticipated for the Candystripes.

Prediction: 6th

Drogheda United

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Luke Heeney of Drogheda United. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

After three seasons in the First Division, Drogheda United are finally back in the big time under the adept management of Tim Clancy.

They were comfortably the best team in the First Division last season, with the likes of Mark Doyle and Killian Phillips impressing. Clancy has added experience in the form of Gary Deegan and Dundalk legend Dane Massey, as well as exciting players like Ronan Murray and Darragh Markey who both have a point to prove in the Premier Division.

Safety is the objective for Drogs, and we anticipate that they'll do just that.

Prediction: 8th

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Dundalk

Dundalk captain Chris Shields. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

For a team that reached the Europa League group stages and won the FAI Cup, people are doubting what Dundalk can achieve this season.

Even after they defeated Shamrock Rovers in the President's Cup, there are still detractors. Yes, we don't know who's managing them and no, we're not quite sure how good some of their players are, but Dundalk have been a consistent player at the top of the Premier Division since 2013, and this season should be no different.

Losing Sean Gannon is a blow, but replacing him with Latvian international Raivis Jurkovskis should plug that gap. Plus, the retention of Michael Duffy is a boon which should buoy the Louth side for the 2021 season.

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They won't finish 22 points behind Shamrock Rovers this season, but it remains to be seen if they can regain their crown.

Prediction: 2nd

Finn Harps

Ollie Horgan's side finished the 2020 season as the form team in the country and if they can find that form earlier than September this year, they'll handily stave off relegation.

Crucially, Horgan has retained the bulk of the squad that secured safety in 2020, with key men like Barry McNamee and David Webster staying in the North-West.

Harps should do better than last season, and there's no better man than Ollie Horgan to eek out results.

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Prediction: 7th

Longford Town

Longford Town players celebrate following the SSE Airtricity League Play-off Final match between Shelbourne and Longford Town at Richmond Park in Dublin. Photo by Ben McShane/Sportsfile

Longford Town were the unfancied side in last season's First Division playoff, yet somehow managed to get themselves promoted in a miraculous run which concluded in defeating Shelbourne at Richmond Park.

Manager Daire Doyle has done a brilliant job in the Midlands, with players like Aodh Dervin and Rob Manley leading De Town back to the Premier Division for the first time since 2015.

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They've added youth, notably Aaron Bolger from Cardiff City and Aaron O'Driscoll from Mansfield Town. It is a massive ask for Longford Town to stay in the Premier Division in 2021, it might just be a step too far.

Prediction: 10th

Shamrock Rovers

League of Ireland Shamrock Rovers captain Ronan Finn and team-mates celebrate being presented with the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division trophy. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The albatross around the collective neck of Shamrock Rovers was lifted last season as they finally won their 18th League of Ireland title.

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It's a tough prospect to retain the crown, not least without two of their most talismanic players, with Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff both seeking pastures new in the off-season. Stephen Bradley has tried to replace them as best as he can, signing Daniel Mandriou from rivals Bohs and the experienced Chris McCann for the Tallaght engine room.

However, the shrewdest acquisition could be Sean Gannon from Dundalk, with the move allowing Rovers captain Ronan Finn to return infield to his preferred centre midfield berth.

It'll be tough to retain, but Rovers have all the credentials to make it back-to-back titles.

Prediction: 1st 

Sligo Rovers

When the 2020 League of Ireland season broke up due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Liam Buckley's Sligo Rovers side was mired at the foot of the table.

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Upon the return to action, the club was galvanised off the field by volunteers and supporters dipping into their pockets. On the field, Buckley utilised all of his nouse and experience and secured a European place for the Bit O Red.

Rovers, despite losing top scorer Ronan Coughlan, have arguably strengthened in all facets for this season. The attacking triumvirate of Romeo Parkes, Jordan Gibson and Walter Figueira is a tantalising prospect.

Prediction: 4th

St Patrick's Athletic

Chris Forrester of St Patrick's Athletic celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match between St Patrick's Athletic and Shelbourne. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
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Consistency has been hard to come by for St Patrick's Athletic, pretty much since winning the FAI Cup in 2014. Stephen O'Donnell, although he wasn't aided by the COVID-19 pandemic, hasn't been able to find continued success with a talented Saints squad.

Although O'Donnell has stiffened the Saints defence, with Lee Desmond the most underrated player in the entire league, the lack of goals has been a constant problem for St Pat's since the loss of Christy Fagan in 2018.

The Saints have added Ronan Coughlan, Matty Smith and Nahum Melvin-Lambert as they seek a return to European football, but they will need to find consistency fast amidst a competitive league.

Prediction: 5th

Waterford

Waterford have been something of a basket case since Lee Power took over as owner of the South-East club. This season, with Kevin Sheedy and Mike Newell at the helm, they're even more of an unknown quantity.

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The experienced Murphys, Daryl and Brian, will have to lead this fledgling outfit at both ends of the pitch, with Preston loanee Adam O'Reilly a potentially shrewd signing.

However, the Blues are infinitely weaker than they were at the resumption of the league in July last year. It'll be a tough task to stay up for the RSC side.

Prediction: 9th

*****

We'll have a season preview for the First Division next week ahead of the big kick-off in the second tier.

SEE ALSO: Our Definitive Ranking Of All 2021 League Of Ireland Home Jerseys

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