Shane McDonnell has decided to give everyone a break from all the transfer news and manager movements and take a look at four of the teams he believes will contend for the Premier Division title in 2015.
Dundalk were of course the champions at the end of the 2014 season, playing the most attractive football, had the highest fitness levels and the most talented group of players.
But Cork City challenged right up until the final day of the season with their disciplined play and resilient defending were most definitely the surprise package of the season, but does this writer expect those teams to challenge for the league title next time around?
Definitely deserving of their league title last season, having played the best football. Credit to the fitness coach at Dundalk who has worked wonders and whatever he puts in the water at half-time worked a treat as Dundalk were able to keep up their high tempo style of play right up until the final whistle.
The club face a problem for next season though as Patrick Hoban, joint-top goalscorer in the league last season with 20 goals along with Christy Fagan, has left to join Oxford United of League Two and the club is yet to bring in a striker to replace him.
One expects them to challenge for the title but the resources and budgets of bigger clubs such as Shamrock Rovers will make it more difficult for the Lilywhites to challenge for another year.
Predicted finish – 2nd
2. Cork City
The most surprising team of last season. Their title challenge remained until the 2-0 loss to Dundalk on the final day, which handed the title to the Louth club. Cork City were renowned for their disciplined defending and structured shape with Billy Dennehy helping them along the way with 13 league goals.
The Leesiders have bolstered their attack with the re-signing of John O’Flynn and have captured Karl Sheppard from Shamrock Rovers which will definitely improve the depth of the squad.
Can they keep up a title challenge once again? Last year nobody expected them to perform as they did, but next season teams will have a different approach to going to Turner’s Cross, which they turned into a fortress last year.
Predicted finish – 4th
3. St. Patrick’s Athletic
It was a disappointing season from the 2013 champions. They never really got their title challenge going despite having the joint-top goalscorer in the league in Christy Fagan with 20 goals, Conan Byrne also pitched in with 15 goals.
Pat’s played some brilliant football throughout the year but couldn’t catch up on Dundalk and Cork City following their slow start. They have brought in Jason McGuinness and Ciarán Kilduff from Shamrock Rovers but have lost Keith Fahey to the Hoops, which is sure to be a massive blow.
If they can manage a decent start, which they haven’t done for the past couple of years one can see them challenging. But ultimately, this writer expects them to fall away and contest for a European spot again.
Predicted finish – 3rd
4. Shamrock Rovers
It has been a very disappointing few seasons for the Hoops and last season they only managed European qualification as St. Pat’s won the FAI Cup.
However, they have strengthened their squad significantly already, bringing in four new players – Keith Fahey, Danny North, David Webster and Gavin Brennan. If they can put together a stronger squad in the off-season and have a good start to next season, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t go on and put up a very strong title challenge, if not win the league.
European football will also be a bonus for Rovers, something that has been missing for two years.
Predicted finish – 1st
So my vote for title winners at this very early stage goes to Shamrock Rovers, although there’s no reason why any of the other four clubs shouldn’t go on and claim it either.
Cork’s financial restrictions may hinder them slightly, although European matches will aid them, especially with the crowd they can draw to Turner’s Cross.
The St. Pat’s squad currently isn’t good enough in my opinion, although there’s plenty of time to strengthen. The top two are Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers. Both clubs will have big budgets and resources and both have the quality to claim the league title come next Autumn.
With four teams involved in the title race for sure, and any added teams who stake their claim such as Derry City, it’s sure to be one of the most open title races in the last number of years.
Shane McDonnell, Pundit Arena