After what felt like an endless offseason, the Airtricity League Premier Division finally returns on Friday night with a host of eye-catching fixtures to kick-off the new campaign.
There are narratives aplenty to delve into, with a host of players, some new to the division and some much for familiar to it, keen to impress.
As the season kicks into gear, Pundit Arena takes a look at five players who could be in for a big Airtricity League campaign.
1) Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers)
One of the most fascinating narratives ahead of the new Airtricity League campaign unquestionably surrounds Jack Byrne’s arrival at Shamrock Rovers.
Byrne was signed by the Dublin club following a difficult period in Scotland with Kilmarnock where he managed just five appearances before his release.
During his time at Manchester City, and his promising loan spell to the Eredivisie, Byrne was considered by many to be one of the most exciting young Irish talents in the game, but he has failed to live up to expectations despite having all the skill in the world to succeed.
Still just 22 years of age, Byrne can use his spell at Rovers to revive his career and could end up being one of the league’s finest players should he find the form he showed during his spell at Cambuur in Holland.
2) Liam Scales (UCD)
One of the most promising young talents in the league, 20-year old UCD centre-back Liam Scales will be relishing the chance to shine in the top flight.
A tremendous season in the students’ title-winning campaign saw Scales included in the PFAI First Division Team of the Year while also receiving a call-up to Stephen Kenny’s home-based U21s squad earlier this month.
UCD will undoubtedly have a task on their hands surviving in the Premier Division despite their eye-catching brand of football and Scales will likely have his work cut out for him no matter the opposition.
The 20-year old had even reportedly caught the eye of champions Dundalk during the off-season but thankfully for Collie O’Neill’s side, Scales did not follow in Georgie Kelly’s footsteps and join the Lilywhites.
3) Sean Murray (Dundalk)
Another new signing and one that, should he find form and fitness, could end up being a stroke of genius, Sean Murray will attempt to revive his career at Oriel Park.
75 Championship appearances for Watford and still only 25 years of age, Murray brings a wealth of experience and quality to Dundalk’s midfield, with John Gill and Vinnie Perth the type of coaches who could bring out the best in their new signing.
Murray had spells at Swindon, Colchester and even a stint in Denmark before joining the champions and could be a massive asset in their bid to retain the title.
Good on the ball, with the ability to create chances for his teammates, he’s an exciting signing that brings a whole lot of upside.
4) Kevin O’Connor (Cork City)
“Kevin O’Connor is a big boost to have back because he’s a quality player,” said Cork City manager John Caulfield of his returning star on loan from Preston North End.
Caulfield is correct, O’Connor will be an excellent addition to a much-changed City squad which ended the last campaign ten points behind eventual champions Dundalk.
The 24-year old already showed his quality with a fantastic free-kick against Dundalk in the President’s Cup and could be one of Caulfield’s most important players throughout the upcoming campaign.
Usually a defender but likely to be deployed in midfield such is his quality, O’Connor will be looking to refind the form that got him the move to Deepdale.
5) Michael Duffy (Dundalk)
Last season’s PFAI Player of the Year, champions Dundalk have done a fantastic job in managing to keep a hold of the talismanic Michael Duffy.
13 goals last season, Duffy was one of the most pivotal components of a Dundalk team that won the double, snatching domestic glory from their nearest rivals Cork City.
The 24-year old, who recently declared for the Republic of Ireland, will look to continue to be the Lilywhites’ main creative threat as he and top scorer Pat Hoban try to rekindle their attacking chemistry.
A rather obvious choice, following his accolade-filled last campaign but it will be fascinating to see if Duffy can continue to grow in this Dundalk side.