After a winter hiatus, the League of Ireland kicked back into gear last weekend, with the game of the week taking place at Oriel Park with the meeting of champions Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers.
Stephen Kenny’s side ground out the win in a weekend that also saw FAI Cup holders Cork City earn three points in difficult conditions at Finn Park, Limerick make the perfect start to their return to the Premier Division, and Bohemians lay the groundwork for a difficult season with a drubbing at home to Derry City.
So who can take heart from their opening weekend, and who must return to the drawing board?
It wasn’t pretty by any means, but the champions are off and running with three points. Missing a number of players against Shamrock Rovers, Stephen Kenny’s side showed enough strength in depth to get the job done against a side that is not too far away from considering themselves title rivals.
With games against Sligo Rovers, St. Patrick’s Athletic, Derry City and Cork City coming up in the near future, getting the three points on Friday was vital.
Tasked with filling the creative void left by Daryl Horgan this year, many have tipped the former Derry City midfielder to become the main man at Oriel Park. If his display against Shamrock Rovers was anything to go by then it could be a big season for the 24-year-old, with a number of fine passes causing serious problems for the visitng defence.
That the match in Ballybofey went ahead on Friday was a minor miracle, such was the state of the pitch in the lead-up to Finn Harps’ clash with Cork City. That said, it proceeded as normal and John Caulfield’s side, reduced to ten men with the second-half sending off of Garry Buckley, earned a 1-0 win courtesy of a Sean Maguire goal on the stroke of half time.
It was gruelling, but three points are three points.
Great win last night against a tough team in tough conditions. Disappointed to be sent off but 3 points is all that matters . We go again ?
— Garry Buckley (@GarryBuckley) February 25, 2017
Welcome back then, lads. Limerick breezed to the First Division title last year, and began this season like they mean to stay in the top flight with a 5-1 crushing of Sligo Rovers at Markets Field. Debutant Rodrigo Tosi was the star of the show (more on him below) with Ian Turner and Lee Lynch also on hand to make Martin Russell’s return to the Premier Division a winning one.
The well-travelled striker has set up base in the League of Ireland and has already raised the bar for himself. The Brazilian, back in Europe after spells in Singapore and Indonesia, took just half an hour to open his account for the Super Blues (only after his eligibility to play was confirmed late on), before completing the hat-trick either side of half time.
With competition for survival intensified this year in the wake of league restructuring, Limerick will need their latest hero to maintain goalscoring form for the campaign.
Rodrigo Tosi is the first player to a score a hat-trick on Premier Division opening day since Eric Lavine got 4 for Galway v Harps (2000) pic.twitter.com/vMK6k3PKC4
— Karl Reilly (@HistoryLOI) February 26, 2017
Kenny Shiels’ side are looking to improve upon last season’s third-place finish in the Premier Divison, and they made the best possible start with a 4-1 win away at Bohemians. How they deal with the added strain of European football later in the campaign remains to be seen but a strong opening like this can only serve to help them.
It might not have been as emphatic as Limerick’s win, but newly-promoted Drogheda secured an important 1-0 victory at Eamonn Deacy Park that meant that the Shane Keegan era at Galway United began on a negative note.
The Preston North End manager deserves his place on this list purely for the lengths he went to in order to snare Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle from Dundalk last year, hiding out in a Russian cathedral armed with two contracts.
As explained by Stephen Kenny in his programme notes last weekend…
Stephen Kenny gets programme notes off to a flier by accusing Simon Grayson of hiding out in St Basil’s Cathedral to snare Horgan & Boyle 🙂 pic.twitter.com/fvqcWxhZcN
— Neil O’Riordan (@noriordan) February 24, 2017
Rovers will feel, rightly or wrongly, that they could have claimed at least a draw against Dundalk on Friday night. They didn’t, however, and now the pressure is really on to make a statement against struggling Bohemians next week.
In terms of a League of Ireland debut, only Tosi’s at Limerick was arguably more incident-filled than Graham Burke, and the former Aston Villa man probably has him beaten in terms of events per minute. Burke was introduced with twenty minutes remaining – within ten minutes of his introduction he had scored for Rovers and saw red after losing his head.
Yeah, that definitely could have gone a bit better, and with Dundalk to come next week as well.
With three teams going down this year, Bohs could be in a bit of trouble. They were certainly put to the sword at Dalymount as Derry’s counterattacking plan tore through them at will, repeatedly being punished in a 4-1 hiding. With a trip to Tallaght to face Shamrock Rovers this weekend, they could be in a dangerous position after only two rounds of fixtures.
The Athlone Town Stadium Floodlights
Athlone Town’s opener against Waterford United had to be delayed by 30 minutes after a power failure caused the floodlights to go out. Not the best start to a season, admittedly, but new manager Colin Fortune’s side did end up winning 1-0 so, swings and roundabouts.
Read More About: athlone town, bohemians, cork city, derry city, Dundalk, graham burke, john caulfield, LOI Premier Division, patrick mceleney, rodrigo tosi, sean maguire, simon grayson, Sligo Rovers, stephen kenny