The League of Ireland’s off-season has provided onlookers with some magnificent midfield signings so far. Here, Rob Lyons takes a look at some of the key midfield signings, and re-signings, which could swing the final destination of the 2015 Premier Division title.
The first televised game of the season throws up a mouthwatering clash between Dublin rivals St. Pat’s and Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium on the 6th of March.
This game was set to be a colossal midfield match-up but both Keith Fahey and Stephen McPhail are to be sidelined through suspension. Gavin Brennan also misses out, along with his brother Ryan Brennan.
This certainly sours what could have been a fantastic opening to the season but at least for Pat’s they can still rely on the majority of their midfield options with only Killian Brennan missing, also due to disciplinary issues.
This match aside, the Hoops’ midfield will still be a standout area this season with the signing of Irish international Keith Fahey, in particular, being quite an impressive acquisition by manager Pat Fenlon.
Fahey’s experience from his time in England, his international appearances and his ability on the ball certainly make Rovers a threat for the upcoming season.
Add to this the expertise of Stephen McPhail, Ryan and Gavin Brennan, along with Kieran Marty Waters, Sean O’Connnor and Gary McCabe, and Rovers will certainly count as a force to be reckoned with come March 6th.
Champions Dundalk have most recently re-signed one of their standout players from last year, Richie Towell. The 23-year-old was outstanding in the middle for the Lilywhites last season, particularly his goalscoring ability, amassing an extremely impressive 15 goals over the course of the Lilywhites’ campaign.
Stephen O’Donnell’s experience as well as Chris Shields’ break-up play in central areas will give Dundalk a more than decent chance at retaining their Premier Division title. The Lilywhites have also secured the services of Former Hoop – Ronan Finn, which will only further increase competition for places in the middle.
Add into the mix the pace the Lilywhites have when attacking in the final third from the likes of Daryl Horgan and Darren Meenan and this ensures the Louth club will not only be difficult to break down but also deadly on the break.
Finishing second in 2014, Cork City would have had doubters circling as to their midfield strength with the loss of Gearóid Morrissey to Cambridge United and an ageing Colin Healy having to pull the strings but with the recent signing of Liam Miller there is certainly a renewed optimism surrounding the prospects of silverware for the Leesiders this term.
Healy realistically has another solid season left in him, having performed well above expectancy in 2014. 21-year-old Gary Buckley looks to be a player for the future too once he cuts out the needless fouls. Pace and trickery will be provided from the flanks by Kieran Djilali and Billy Dennehy.
There were some epic midfield battles between Cork City and Dundalk last term and with even more talent added to the Leesiders’ ranks as well as Dundalk holding onto their key men, there are sure to be some fiery encounters, the first of which is on the 24th of April in Turner’s Cross.
As for Pat’s, who finished third last season, they are substantially weakened by the aforementioned loss of Keith Fahey, although holding onto Killian Brennan and Chris Forrester means there will, once again, be no easy match while facing Liam Buckley’s Saints.
Greg Bolger provides the solidity needed to keep the ball and and worm his way free from tackles, particularly necessary and effective when one considers the style of play Buckley instills.
Elsewhere, Sligo Rovers have recruited intelligently with Sander Puri, who has been capped 53 times for Estonia. David Cawley and John Russell provide the already established talent and will have to impress under a new manager in Owen Heary to stay in the team.
There is likely to be a surprise or two before the season’s end from sides which haven’t been mentioned but the signings which have come into the league’s top sides from last year, along with the players they have been able to retain means we are sure to be witness to some titanic battles between March and October.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena