Ever since winning the league in 2013 St. Pat’s have failed to mount a genuine challenge for the title, with Derry City and Shamrock Rovers pushing them to the periphery of late as Dundalk and Cork City vied for top honours.
The Saints did only finish one place lower in 2017 (8th) compared to 2016 but their most recent season will undoubtedly go down as one to forget, having flirted with relegation for the majority of the year and winning just nine league games, which included a horrid run in the middle of the campaign where they registered just one victory in 14 matches.
Heading into 2018 there is a sense that Pat’s will again return to their usual position of chasing European qualification, and speaking to Pundit Arena at the launch of the SSE Airtricity League earlier this week Saints boss Liam Buckley explained that a line had been drawn under 2017 as focus shifts to Friday night’s opening league clash against Cork City.
“We’ve drawn a line under last year. It wasn’t our best year, but that said, like all clubs, players have come and players have moved on etc.
“We feel we’ve signed quite well and we’ve kept who we wanted from last year in relation to development this year.
“We’ve worked extremely hard in pre-season, we’ve done alright in the games we’ve played, I think we’re fit and we’re looking forward to a great occasion against Cork.”
For League of Ireland sides silverware can be the game-changer in terms of higher attendances and merchandise sales, but Buckley explains that Pat’s target this year will be the ‘same as it is every year’: to qualify for Europe.
“It’s my seventh year with Pat’s and every year I’d say ‘let’s try get top four.’
“One of the years we went for top four and we finished first, another year we finished third, another year we finished seventh or sixth.
“Our ambition is no different to any other year – it’s the top four. It’s European football for the following year, that’s where all the money is. It helps the following year from a budgeting point of view.
“If you look at Cork now this year, the resources they’ll have just out playing in Europe. They’ll play four games. That’s half a million to a million euros into the coffers there for them. That’s a lot of money to help run your club.
“At the minute the resources are with the teams that are playing in Europe because they can hand pick players from around the league so we’ve got to try and muscle ourselves into that and it will take a big effort no doubt.”
Pat’s begin their drive for a top four finish on Friday night when they take on Cork City in Inchicore with kick-off at 7:45pm.
In this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish football podcast, we preview the 2018 SSE Airtricity League season, hear from Ronan Finn, Liam Buckley, Shane Keegan and Ollie Horgan, and we also pay tribute to the great Liam Miller.