In the latest of our 2018 League of Ireland Premier Division previews, we look at 2013 champions St. Patrick’s Athletic.
Having survived relegation by the skin of their teeth in 2017, the pressure is on manager Liam Buckley to ensure that Pat’s have a much better time of it in the coming season. Having begun his second spell at the club in 2012, Buckley has enjoyed plenty of success at the club in winning the league title, FAI Cup and two EA Sports cups.
However, the boss will know that the poor form in 2017 that almost saw the club sink into the First Division last year cannot be allowed to happen again – fortunately, some clever moves in the transfer market should see that avoided.
Winger Conan Byrne proved to be a standout performer for Pat’s once again last season, supplying nine goals from out wide (half of which were goal of the season contenders). Now 32 and in his sixth year at the club, Byrne is one of the more experienced heads around the place now and it will be from him that the likes of James Doona and Darragh Markey will look to for guidance over the course of the year.
The former Shelbourne man will make up a key part of Buckley’s tactical setup again just as he did last year, and having won just about everything there is to win with the club over the course of his previous five years, he will be desperate to revive the side’s fortunes in the coming campaign.
Key New Arrival
While Kevin Toner is arguably the most exciting this season what with his Premier League experience really, the acquisition of Simon Madden from Shamrock Rovers is arguably more significant. The right-back was being hailed as the best in his position in the league by Hoops boss Stephen Bradley last year, and is a big signing for Buckley.
That has not changed, Madden remains one of the best right-backs in the league, and Rovers’ loss will certainly be Pats’ gain. In fact, in Madden and Ian Birmingham, Buckley can now call upon arguably the best combination of full-backs in the division – certainly in an attacking sense – and both will be perfect for the manager’s preferred 4-3-3 formation.
2017 was a big year in terms of Darragh Markey’s development, and it stands to reason that he is set to go from strength in the upcoming campaign. The 20-year-old made eleven starts for Pat’s last season, and even earned himself a Player of the Month nomination in May.
Markey’s face and dribbling really helped him to stand out in the midfield last season, and despite the added competition in the centre in 2018, he should be confident in his ability to nail down a starting berth and playing his natural game in a side that shouldn’t have to worry too much about the threat of relegation,
One to Watch
It wasn’t the best of starts for Owen Garvan at the club, as the 2017 signing saw red in his very first match. The former Ireland U21 international didn’t struggled somewhat to catch fire towards the tail end of that season, but the fact that he has returned for 2018 shows that Buckley considers him to be a useful asset to the side.
Despite his struggles last season, however, the 30-year-old should not be written off by any means. It’s only as few short years ago that he was playing Premier League football with Crystal Palace, and the midfielder showed enough flashes last year to suggest that, in a team that is confident and playing fast, effective football, he is full capable of dictating play from the centre. It could turn out to be a big season for the former Ipswich man.
Buckley has recruited well, and even accounting for the losses of important players such as Conor O’Malley and Jordi Balk, Pats’ can be confident of a much better season than how they fared last year.
The defensive unit should be transformed with the additions of Toner, Madden and former Sligo Rovers man Mick Leahy to the backline, while James Doona and Dean Clarke will provide some more youthful energy into the attack. Combine this with the experience and quality with the likes of Owen Garvan and Killian Brennan and the Richmond Park side should definitely be looking forward to the new campaign – even more so if they can defeat champions Cork City in their opening game.
Talk of Europe maybe slightly premature, but don’t bet against them knocking on the door either.
Pundit Arena Prediction: 5th
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