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Living the Hoop dreams as champions the one to beat this season

Alan Smith tugs on his boots, slips in the shin-guards, does a few cursory stretches and kicks off his League of Ireland column. It’s going to be another mad season, isn’t it?

Image: INPHO/Donall Farmer

DEEP INSIDE THE confines of Tallaght Stadium, a quiet confidence is emanating from the current league champions.

Shamrock Rovers, after nearly two decades of heartache and turmoil, bagged their first Premier Division title since 1994 last season. It has heralded a new era for the Hoops.

Of course that era had started once Rovers brought in the astute O’Neill at the beginning 2009, but it only came to fruition at the Carlisle Grounds when the coveted title was finally theirs. With arch-rivals Bohemians facing a financial crisis over the off-season, it looks like the Hoops could now exert their dominance once again.

And with O’Neill adding the likes of Ken Oman and Ciaran Kilduff to his already bulging squad, amongst several others, then it appears the title will be theirs to throw away.

Undoubtedly, their main threat will be last season’s cup double winners Sligo Rovers. It’s a tag that Bit O’Red boss Paul Cook has shied away from, but if there is a team to dethrone the champions, it’ll be the ‘other’ Rovers. Although he missed pre-season, Joey Ndo will pull the strings in midfield and having Raffele Cretaro back from Bohs will also give last year’s top scorers (with 61 league goals in 36 games) even more power in front of goal.

Add in the solid duo of Gavin Peers and Jason McGuinness at the back, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t challenge the Hoops.

The next best on paper has to be Dundalk, with the Oriel Park outfit likely to bang in a hatful ofgoals  thanks to the acquisition of two of the most potent strikers in Irish football, Jason Byrne and Mark Quigley. Ian Foster’s major worry will be the lack of strength in depth at the back, but if the likes of Eoghan Osborne and Colin Hawkins can stay fit, then they will be in with a decent chance.

Challenge

Other than that, it’s hard to see where the challenge is going to come from. St Pat’s will be hopeful rather than expectant, and Derry City will be happy with a mid-table finish as Stephen Kenny has a lot of promising young players out to prove their worth. Bohs’ squad has been decimated and on the basis of their pre-season form will struggle to form a title-challenge. A fourth-placed finish is about the best they can hope for, but with stalwarts like Ollie Cahill and Owen Heary in the ranks at Dalymount Park, then they certainly won’t be a walkover.

The same can’t be said for Drogheda United, however. Having been preparing for the First Division, they were returned by default after the demise of Sporting Fingal and now look certain to be at the bottom of the table. Quite strange, then, that Mick Cooke would move from the steady-ship of Monaghan United, on the cusp of success in the First Division, to a club that is in disarray and at this juncture, likely to be relegated anyway.

Indeed, the case of Cooke traversing to Louth becomes even more peculiar when Mons found out about the move midway through a friendly, with their ‘manager’ in the dugout, as Drogs released a press statement saying he had been appointed.  “I rang my chairman [Jim McGlone] at Monaghan United, drove up to Monaghan and on that two hour drive I probably made my mind up,” Cooke told ExtraTime.ie  on Monday, though some of his former players at Gortakeegan confirmed that they hadn’t been informed until after Drogs announced the deal.


It’s a mad decision, but in this league it wouldn’t happen any other way. Let the fun and games commence.

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