The 2014/15 SSE Airtricity League of Ireland u19 season is upon us and if last season is anything to go by, it should be another fantastic year for underage football in Ireland.
As we enter the fourth edition of the u19 season, it’s clear that this league has been a superb addition to the football calendar in the country. Hundreds of players have come through the league since its inception in 2011 and it has offered young prodigies the chance to test themselves against the best teams in the country.
This year sees a new format being introduced. The teams across the country are now split into two sections – Northern and Southern Divisions.
Firstly, we will look at the Southern Division. The stand out name is Cork City. The Rebels have won the Elite Division for the first three years of its existence and they should prove difficult to stop again this year. Some of their star performers from last season such as Greg Harte and Darren Murphy are no longer eligible but with players like Conor Ellis and Craig Donnelan still on their books, it could be another impressive season on Leeside.
Shamrock Rovers, Waterford United and UCD all finished in the top five of the Elite competition last season and will be challenging for the title once again. Added to this are Cobh Ramblers. Holders of the Enda McGuill Cup, the Cork side are a force to be reckoned with at u19 level and with new boss Stephen Bermingham in charge, it could be a bright season for the Rams.
Athlone Town, Bray Wanderers and Salthill Devon all competed at Elite level last year and expect to be tough opponents once again. Lastly, Wexford Youths, Limerick and Mervue United will be facing some new opposition having played in the South Division last season. On paper the Southern Division looks the tougher of the two leagues and competition for the top four places will be fierce.
The Northern Division also contains eleven teams. Shelbourne are the team to watch out for here. Last season it seemed certain that the Elite Division trophy was headed for Tolka Park only for Shels to fall off the pace late on and hand the league to Cork City. They will want to avenge that this year and should be very strong once again. The Dublin side are the only team in the Northern Division that finished in the top six (second) in last year’s Elite Division.
St Pat’s and Sligo Rovers had respectable finishes in the Elite last time out and will want to improve on that for the upcoming season. Both are big clubs and will expect to finish in the top four here.
Enda McGuill Cup finalists Drogheda United would have been relegated from the Elite Division along with Salthill Devon had the format remained the same so this is a chance for the Louth club to regroup and challenge at the top once more.
Bohemians and Longford Town both competed in the five team South Division last season but now find themselves competing in the Northern league and will fancy their chances at making the top four. All five teams from the previous Northern Division will play in this league. Big hopes lie on the shoulders of Derry City and Dundalk who had impressive seasons last year.
A trio of Donegal outfits, Finn Harps, Letterkenny Rovers and Fanad United complete this league. This is a difficult division to call and all teams will fancy their chances at progressing. It should make for an entertaining league with all to play for.
Teams will play each-other twice in the season, home and away. There will be Northern and Southern Divisional winners before a knock-out phase to see who will be crowned National U19 League Champions.
The top four teams in each section will qualify for the quarter finals. Teams 1 and 2 in each section will have home advantage.
1 North v 4 South / 2 North v 3 South / 1 South v 4 North / 2 South v 3 North.
The Semi-Final and Final will be Open Draw.
The season will kick off on the week ending 30th August 2014 and the Enda McGuill Cup will also be retained.
There isn’t long to go until the start of the new season and teams across the country are well into their pre-season schedule. The new format of the league will benefit the clubs hugely by reducing costs and creating more competitive games. The standard at this level is very high and it is difficult to call who will make the quarter-finals, never mind win it outright.
Whatever the case, expect another exciting season in the SSE Airtricity u19 League.
Thomas Stafford, Pundit Arena.