The SSE Airtricity League came roaring back into life last month, with three Premier Division (and one First Division) fixtures taking place.
Last season’s champions Cork City have already set the pace with three wins from three, while rivals Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers have taken a bit more time to get going. Newly-promoted Waterford, meanwhile, have taken six points from nine and, right now anyway, look as though the relegation battle will be of no concern to them whatsoever.
In the opening month, which players have stood out so far and laid down a marker for the rest of the season?
Gary Rogers (Dundalk). Three clean sheets from three for Rogers so far in the league, as Stephen Kenny’ side benefit from a backline that have mostly been together for a few years now. The 36-year-old has looked calm and collected and, though his shutout record has to end at some point, huge credit has to Rogers for his efforts so far. Ger Doherty of Derry City comes a close second.
Stephen Folan (Dundalk). Brought in to replace Niclas Vemmelund in the off-season, Folan has contributed hugely to Dundalk’s clean sheet record thus far. The former Galway United and Cork City man has shown promising signs of being able to step up from a Tribesmen backline that looked a bit too porous at times in 2017.
Dan Casey (Bohemians). Casey started the campaign is the best way possible by scoring twice in Bohs’ opening-night 3-1 victory over Shamrock Rovers. Still only 20, the former Sunderland academy player is only getting better with experience.
Kenny Browne (Waterford). Browne played a big part in Waterford’s promotion campaign having made the move from Cork City, and the side will look to the experienced defender for guidance as they look to stabilise themselves as a Premier Division club. Two wins from three and strong defensive showings so far indicate that both he and the Blues are on the right track.
Kieran Sadlier (Cork City). Big things are expected of Sadlier this year, and so far he has not disappointed. The former Sligo Rovers man has scored twice so far in the 2018 league season and has looked threatening almost evert time he has the ball at his feet. A very positive start.
Keith Ward (Bohemians). Turned in a performance of the highest quality in the victory over Shamrock Rovers on the opening night. Ward was a creative presence in the Bohemians midfield throughout 2017, and the early indicators are that the playmaker is ready to pick up where he left off in this campaign.
Conan Byrne (St. Patrick’s Athletic). While this season has yet to really get going for St. Pat’s, Conan Byrne seems intent on dragging the side into life. The 32-year-old was a big part of the near-comeback against Cork City and put in another fine showing against Bray Wanderers the following week.
Gavan Holohan (Waterford). Like Folan, Holohan was another who impressed with Galway United despite their ultimate relegation. He was always going to find another Premier Division club to showcase his talents, and in February he signalled his intent to being part of the Waterford revolution by registering strong performances in their first few matches.
Ally Roy (Sligo Rovers). Moving to the League of Ireland blind can be a difficult task, but Roy looks like he’s more than ready for it. The versatile 20-year-old’s performances for Sligo Rovers so far suggest he’s ready and able to fill the creative void left by Kieran Sadlier last summer – until his loan spell expires and he has to back to Hearts, at least.
Graham Cummins (Cork City). The hero of Cork City’s promotion season of 2011, Cummins had an eventful 30 minutes in his first league game back, scoring a goal before being sent off. On his first game back from suspension, the 30-year-old scored a hat-trick against Sligo Rovers and, right now anyway, it looks as though John Caulfield has found his answer to filling teh void left by Sean Maguire’s move to Preston.
Adam Morgan (Sligo Rovers). Like Roy, Morgan is a League of Ireland newbie, but his eye for goal suggests that adapting will not be an issue. The former Liverpool striker scored his first goal for Sligo Rovers in the victory over Derry City, before netting a consolation penalty in the 4-1 defeat to Cork City. The partnership between Morgan, Roy and Rhys McCabe is certainly one to watch for the first few months of the season.