The League of Ireland Premier Division will be three big players lighter for the 2018 season.
While the league is growing in terms of exposure and interest, maintaining and raising the standard of players involved is also important – to that end, losing several top performers from last year in such a short space of time is a blow – especially with the likes of Sean Maguire leaving midway through 2017.
The most high-profile of the departures is Patrick McEleney. The playmaker was an integral part of the Lilywhites’ campaign last season, scoring a career-high ten league goals as Stephen Kenny’s side came won the EA Sports cup, came second in the Premier Division and reached the FAI Cup final.
McEleney’s move to League One side Oldham Athletic has reportedly already been sealed, with an official announcement to follow.
Another Dundalk player whose departure has been confirmed is Niclas Vemmelund. The Danish defender arrived at Oriel Park from Derry City at the beginning of the 2017 season, but decided at the end of the campaign that he wouldn’t be renewing his contract.
The 25-year-old has signed for Danish second division side Middelfart Boldklubs after four years away from his homeland. With David McMillan also having departed, Kenny will have his work cut out for him in reshaping the spine of his team ahead of the 2018 season.
Centre-half Jordi Balk, meanwhile, has left St. Patrick’s Athletic after arriving from Oss midway through last season. Although the 23-year-old made just ten appearances for Liam Buckley’s side, he made quite an impression on Inchicore and was, for many, among the best defenders for the entire campaign.
— St Patrick’s Athletic FC (@stpatsfc) December 19, 2017
Balk has returned to the Netherlands, signing for third division side FC Lienden.
However, there was significantly better news for Pats on Wednesday with the arrival of Aston Villa defender Kevin Toner on a two-year deal. The 21-year-old former Ireland U19 international, who made four Premier League appearances for Villa in the 2015/16 season, was also reportedly wanted by Shamrock Rovers but Pats won the race for the highly-rated player.
In the final Mixer Football Podcast of 2017, we select our favourite goals, matches and performances of the year, as well as our usual roundup of the latest League of Ireland news.