The Airtricity Premier Division returned with a bang last night, with all ten teams in action across five Friday night games.
There was late drama, impressive newcomers and struggling champions as fans around the country breathed a collective sigh of relief knowing that football was finally back.
After the first week of fixtures Pundit Arena takes a look at what we learned from the Airtricity League’s opening round.
The New Contenders Got Off To A Perfect Start
Much has been made of the potential for this season to be one of the most competitive in recent years, with Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic hotly tipped to challenge following strong off seasons.
Both sides started the new campaign in perfect fashion with two victories as they look to prove that they can live up to the hype.
Rovers picked up an excellent injury time win over Waterford thanks to a late Ethan Boyle goal at the RSC while St Pats beat a new look Cork City by 1-0.
It may be incredibly early in the season but a strong start against tough opposition represents a fantastic base for both sides to kick-on from.
The Champions Are Not Infallible
Admittedly yes, Dundalk did also draw their opening game of last year’s campaign and go on to win the division by 10 points, but as far as first league games go , this wasn’t ideal for John Gill and Vinny Perth.
Credit where it is due, Sligo Rovers were very good value for their point, grabbing an excellent opening goal and defending impressively in spells.
Dundalk though will no doubt have seen this game as an opportunity to lay down an early marker to the contenders, but when Pat Hoban saw his penalty saved, Gill and Perth must have known it was not going to be their day.
The result is certainly not a cause for any real concern but with a tough trip to Finn Harps next up, the Lilywhites will be looking for their first league win sooner rather than later.
Despite Their Promise, It Could Be A Long Season For UCD
The students unquestionably knew they’d be in for a game last night when they visited the Brandywell to take on a new look Derry City.
“It’s a tough start, but is their any easy games?” quipped manager Collie O’Neill a few days before the game. He was not wrong.
Against Derry, UCD started well but simply couldn’t threaten the Candystripes goal, something that could end up being a serious issue for them throughout the season.
As the game went on the home side looked much the better team and in truth were good value for their 3-0 lead, with O’Neill’s side given a harsh reminder of the reality of the top flight.
The students are young and promising and will surprise teams this season, but they’ll certainly need to show more steel if they are to survive.
A Host Of New Signings Impressed
A number of high profile signings arrived in the league during the off-season and a number of them already showed their promise.
At the RSC, Jack Byrne was unquestionably the standout player in the middle of the park and looked as though he could become an incredibly shrewd piece of business for Rovers this campaign.
Elsewhere, Sean Murray showed promise and got on the scoresheet for the champions Dundalk in their draw with Sligo, while Cork’s new sensation Daire O’Connor was the standout player despite their defeat to St Pats.
Across the league a host of new signings impressed including Mikey Drennan for St Pats, Luke Wade-Slater for Bohemians and Caolan McAleer for newly promoted Finn Harps.