With the League of Ireland due to kick off this coming Friday, we take a look at each side as part of the eagerly anticipated season ahead.
With a busy transfer window and some impressive overseass signings, a number of teams will be hoping to stop Dundalk’s attempts at claiming a fourth successive league title.
Shamrock Rovers and Cork City look like the teams most likely to challenge the Lilywhites, with Bray and St. Pat’s also shaping up nicely ahead of the season’s kick-off.
The fact that three teams will be relegated at the end of the season also adds to the spice of the 2017 edition, with newly-promoted Drogheda United and Limerick hoping to establish themselves in the top flight.
In part one, we focus on Bohemians, Bray Wanderers, Cork City, Derry City, Drogheda United and the champions, Dundalk.
There has been a near overhaul of the team that finished eight last term in an attempt to secure better fortunes this season. As Bohs enter their last season in Dalymount Park before it’s redeveloped, manager Keith Long will hope to go out with a bang.
Rob Cornwall and Kaleem Simon are exciting prospects, with the latter drawing comparisons to Ayman Ben Mohamed, who departed the club for Tunisia midway through last season. Technically gifted Keith Ward will also hope to provide the graft that the Gypsies were missing in 2016, with striker Ismahil Akinade, who was expected to join Sligo, a crucial part of the side.
The departures of Roberto Lopes and Keith Buckley are massive for Bohs, who will hope to return to their former glory this year.
Verdict: With more attacking depth in the squad this term, Bohs could push for a European place.
Jamie Doyle (Shelbourne), Greg Murray (Shelbourne), Fuad Sule (St Patrick’s Athletic), Philip Gannon (Longford Town), Rob Cornwall (Shamrock Rovers), Dinny Corcoran (St Patrick’s Athletic), Kaleem Simon (Longford Town), Keith Ward (Derry City), Oscar Brennan (Cabinteely FC)
Robert Lopes (Shamrock Rovers), Jason Caffrey (Shelbourne), Keith Buckey (Bray Wanderers), Dean Delany (Shelbourne), Jake Kelly (Longford Town), Dean O’Halloran (Waterford FC), Derek Prendergast (Shelbourne), Kurtis Byrne (St.Pats), Jamie Hollywood (Drogheda United)
Shane Supple (2017), Ismahil Akinade (2017), Dominic Peppard (2017), Paddy Kavanagh (2017), Daniel Byrne (2017), Dean Casey (2017), Ian Morris (2017), Warren O’Hora (2017), Stephen Best (2017)
Hoping to become the new glamour side of the League of Ireland, one of Bray’s major pieces of business has been holding onto the talented Dylan Connolly despite interest from Dundalk. Hugh Douglas, Karl Moore and Mark Salmon are other exciting players at the club’s disposal.
Gary McCabe and Keith Buckley were key men at their former clubs, Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians respectively, and represent major coups for the Seasiders while ex-Manchester City man Aaron Green has always thrilled in the league.
Anto Flood and Derek Foran return from spells abroad for a Bray side that could certainly be this season’s surprise package.
Verdict: Bray have the quality in their squad to be this seasons surprise package, watch this space.
Keith Buckley (Bohemians), Aaron Greene (Limerick FC), Gary McCabe (Shamrock Rovers), Derek Foran (Sacremento Republic FC), Anthony Flood (Free Agent)
Andrew Lewis (mutual agreement), Chris Lyons (Shelbourne), Paul Finnegan (Cliftonville)
Peter Cherrie (2017), Dylan Connolly (2018), Conor Kenna (2017), John Sullivan (2017), Mark Salmon (2017), Tim Clancy (2017), Hugh Douglas (2017), Darragh Noone (2017), Ryan Brennan (2017), Peter Cherrie (2017), Karl Moore (2017), Alan Kehoe (2017), Ger Pender (2017), Conor Earley (2017), Kevin Lynch (2017), Lee Stacey (2017)
Another side with an impressive recruitment drive, Cork showed their title aspirations by dispatching Dundalk 3-0 in the President’s Cup last week. Technically gifted ex-Manchester United youth Conor McCormack and Frenchman Achille Campion will add to an already strong and close-knit Cork side.
The retention of the league’s top scorer last term Sean Maguire will also be critical for City, who will hope to put an end to Dundalk’s Premier Division dominance in 2017. Boasting a host of players with experience in England and an attractive style of play, Cork will be one of the favourites for the league this season.
John Caulfield’s side will also be hoping to improve on their impressive European performances last season as they enter yet another Europa League qualifying campaign this summer.
Verdict: Certainly in a position to claim the league title from Dundalk.
Jimmy Keohane (Sligo Rovers), Achille Campion (Sligo Rovers), Conor McCormack (Derry City), Ryan Delaney – Loan until the summer (Burton Albrion), Shane Griffin (Reading)
Gavan Holohan (Galway United), Danny Morrissey (Finn Harps), Craig Donnellan (Cobh Ramblers), Ian Turner (Limerick), Dave Mulcahy (Waterford FC), Matthew Connor (Waterford FC), Mark O’Sullivan (Waterford FC), Eric Grimes (Derry City), Chiedozie Ogbene (Limerick FC)
Steven Beattie (2017), Alan Bennett (2017), Garry Buckley (2017), John Dunleavy (2017), Connor Ellis (2017), Mark McNulty (2017), Gearoid Morrissey (2017), Karl Sheppard (2017), Alan Smith (2017), Sean Maguire (2017), Kevin O’Connor (2017), Stephen Dooley (2017), John Kavanagh (2017), Conor Ellis (2017)
After some years in the wilderness, Kenny Shiels turned Derry into one of the most attractive teams to watch in the league in 2016, which resulted in an honourable third place finish behind the dominant Dundalk and Cork.
Mark Timlin returns after a season in Dublin with St. Pat’s while highly rated former Aberdeen midfielder Nicky Low joins on loan from Dundee.
With Aaron McEneff and Ronan Curtis two very exciting players in an ever improving side, Derry will hope to catch up with Cork and Dundalk.
Verdict: A great team to watch and possibly a top four finish in what will be a competitive title bid.
Mark Timlin (St Patrick’s Athletic), Eric Grimes (Cork City), Nicky Low – on loan (Dundee), Ciaran O’Connor – on loan (Dundalk FC), Mikhail Kennedy – on loan (Charlton Athletic)
Gareth McGlynn (retired), Conor McCormack (Cork City), Shaun Patton (Sligo Rovers), Keith Ward (Bohemians), Patrick McClean (Waterford FC), Niclas Vemmelund (Dundalk FC)
Nathan Boyle (2017), Ronan Curtis (2017), Joshua Daniels (2017), Ger Doherty (2017), Dean Jarvis (2017), Aaron McEneff (2018), Barry McNamee (2017), Ryan McBride (2018), Rory Patterson (2018), Rory Holden (2017), Conor McDermott (2017), Harry Monaghan (2017), Scott Whiteside (2017), Ben Doherty (2017), Aaron Barry (2017), Lukas Schubert (2017)
Following promotion to the Premier Division, Drogs have been boosted by the signing of the local Brennan brothers (Gavin and Killian) on free transfers.
Both are accomplished players in the league and their experience along with that of ex-Ireland international Stephen Elliot should give them every chance of avoiding relegation.
The north easterners will also be looking forward to renewing their old rivalry with champions Dundalk.
Verdict: Despite the added experience, avoiding relegation will be a tough ask.
Gavin Brennan (Free Agent), Conor Kane (St. Patrick’s Athletic), Killian Brennan (Free Agent), Jamie Hollywood (Bohemians), Ciaran McGuigan (Lansdowne Bohys FC, USA), Stephen Elliot (Free Agent), Thomas Byrne (Brighton and Hove Albion)
Aaron Ashe (Shelbourne)
Stephen McGuinness (2017), Colm Deasy (2017), Stephen Dunne (2017), Luke Gallagher (2017), Kevin Farragher (2017), Lloyd Buckley (2017), Eoghan Dempsey (2017), Sean Brennan (2017), Sean Thornton (2017), Jake Hyland (2017), Adam Wixted (2017), Mark Doyle (2017), Richie Purdy (2017), Gareth McCaffery (2017), Marc Griffin (2017)
Having become national icons following their Europa League exploits, Dundalk have gained League of Ireland immortality. However, Lilywhites boss Stephen Kenny has been tasked with replacing star men Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan, not to mention Ronan Finn, who joins up with Shamrock Rovers.
Having missed out on Dylan Connolly and Paddy McCourt, Kenny added highly rated ex-Derry City man Michael Duffy from Celtic.
Conor Clifford’s signing is an exciting one too, being a player who has a similar playing style to Richie Towell.
With expectations high yet again and with another European odyssey coming up in the summer, the Lilywhites will be gunning for their fourth consecutive title – hoping to become only the second ever side to do achieve this feat.
Verdict: Have recruited smartly following some big departures and could go right to the end with Cork.
Sean Hoare (St Patrick’s Athletic), Jamie McGrath (St Patrick’s Athletic), Niclas Vemmelund (Derry City), Conor Clifford (Boreham Wood), Steven Kinsella – on loan (Everton FC), Michael Duffy (Celtic), Thomas Stewart (Ottawa Fury)
Darren Meenan (Shamrock Rovers), Andy Boyle (Preston North End), Daryl Horgan (Preson North End), Ronan Finn (Shamrock Rovers), Michael O’Connor (Shamrock Rovers), Alan Keane (Crusaders), Ciaran O’Connor – on loan (Derry City)
Patrick McEleney (2017), Chris Shields (2017), Brian Gartland (2017), Georgie Poynton (2017), Stephen O’Donnell (2018), Gary Rogers (2017), Paddy Barrett (2017), Ciaran Kilduff (2017), Robbie Benson (2017),Gabriel Sava (2017), Dane Massey (2017), Sean Gannon (2017), David McMillan (2017), John Mountney (2017), Shane Grimes (2017)
Nick Menezes, Pundit Arena
Transfer information credit: Extratime.ie.