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Dublin: 15 °C Friday 20 April, 2018

First Division preview: Is it Limerick's title to lose?

The Shannonsiders, who host Finn Harps tonight, look to be the team to beat in the Airtricity League’s second tier.

Limerick boss Pat Scully.
Limerick boss Pat Scully.
Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

HOW DOES THE saying go… the bookies rarely get it wrong?

Well if the people whose job it is to forensically study the form and come up with the odds are to be believed, Limerick FC already have the Airtricity League First Division wrapped up before a ball has even been kicked.

The Shannonsiders were made overwhelming 1/6 favourites and are out in front on their own as Waterford United are the next shortest at 8/1, meaning the expectation levels from fans at Jackman Park are sure to be sky high.

As would be expected, manager Pat Scully isn’t paying much attention to the display of confidence which has been put in his side and downplayed its significance when talking to TheScore last week.

“It’s nice that people are saying good things about us but it doesn’t mean anything,” the former Huddersfield Town defender said.

Just because the bookies made us favourites doesn’t mean we are going to win the league.”

Upon glancing down through squad list, it is plainly obvious that Scully has assembled one of the most accomplished teams the First Division has seen in recent seasons.

Two League of Ireland household names, Joe Gamble and Denis Behan, were brought in midway through last season when the Cork pair were let go by League One club Hartlepool.

The signings were seen as major coups for a team competing in the second tier and the financial backing of JP MccManus has evidently handed them reserves that their rivals must be envious of.

Only two weeks ago, the media spot light was shone on Limerick when it was announced that two internationals, Czech midfielder Lubos Kalouda and Polish striker Dawid Janczyk, would be arriving from Russian giants CSKA Moscow for a trial.

While the moves didn’t materialise, it speaks volumes that they can even attract players valued at seven figure sums.

Seasoned journeyman Dominic Foley has come in from Cercle Brugge after the former Irish international had spells with Gent, Bohemians, Braga and a rake of English clubs. Derek O’Brien will add experience to a team already bursting with it, as will St Pat’s duo Stephen Bradley and Shane Guthrie.

We have got a very good team, we’ve a strong squad of great pros so we’re in a good place,” added Scully, who won the division as boss of Shamrock Rovers in 2006.

“We are looking to improve every year. They last two have seen us come on hugely and we would like to progress again this year. If we can do that, then we have a great chance of being successful.”

Limerick ended last season a mere three points off champions Cork City but were pipped to a place-off spot by Monaghan United. They begin their campaign at home to Finn Harps this evening and, along with the rest of the pack, the Donegal club will be intent on upsetting the odds by finishing ahead of the early favourites.

“I think Waterford, Finn Harps and Longford should do well while Mervue will be dark horses. The First Division has always been a challenging league to get out of but if we can consistently perform to our capabilities I think we will be ok.”

Tonight’s opponents are being seen as potential title challengers with Peter Hutton at the helm, Paul O’Brien is expected to have his Waterford side in the mix-up come November having assembled a squad which possesses a good blend of experience and youth while Longford Town have set themselves a realistic aim of making the play-offs.

Galway’s representatives Mervue United and SD Galway, Athlone Town and Mick Wallace’s Wexford Youths make up the eight-team division.

First Division Outright Betting:

Limerick FC 1/6

Waterford United 8/1

Longford Town 10/1

Mervue United 33/1

Athlone Town 50/1

Finn Harps 50/1

SD Galway 66/1

Wexford Youths 150/1

Airtricity League 2012: Five transfers which will make big impacts this season

Slideshow: Meet the Airtricity League gaffers for 2012

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Ben Blake

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