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Stuart Byrne column: ‘Some of the bigger clubs haven’t turned up in recent years’

In the first of his weekly pieces for TheScore.ie, the former Shelbourne midfielder turned soccer analyst previews the SSE Airtricity League curtain-raiser.

Players from all 12 Premier Division clubs line up at the SSE Airtricity League launch last week.
Players from all 12 Premier Division clubs line up at the SSE Airtricity League launch last week.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

IT ALWAYS SEEMS like there is a black hole in your life during the SSE Airtricity League off-season so it’s good to see it return tonight.

Over the past last week I’ve got back involved in the media and realised that I miss that side of it too.

Players, coaches and supporters will all be raring to go but it can be a difficult time for some.

I was very lucky during my career in terms of contracts but you have to feel for players at the end of the season especially in this era as it has changed since I retired. It has just got worse and worse to the point where it is can be very messy.

You can’t help but feel that clubs are taking advantage of the situation at this stage because they only have to pay players during the current playing periods then they can just throw them out like a piece of meat if they want.

Players may not have been approached by the manager and they’re starting to get that feeling in the pit of their stomach that they’re not going to kept on so it must be a tough situation for them.

It’s not as if the money is good either so it’s a worry football-wise and financially so please God there aren’t many players out there that are in that situation and hopefully everybody has found a club.

I recall the final week before the start of the season being okay because you know it’s final preparation time but when you go back for the start of pre-season it’s horrible. You have seven or eight weeks before the campaign starts and you feel like you’re doing all this hard work and not getting the opportunity to play.

But I am looking forward to it getting started. There’s always a replenished energy about the place and even the arrival of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane seems to have had a knock-on effect on the league. So it’s all really positive for the league and especially younger players.

I’ve been quite disappointed with some of the teams over the last few years. The league has been indifferent in that some of the bigger clubs just haven’t turned up. The one thing I’m hoping for this year is that it’s as competitive as it can be.

Certainly I don’t think that has been the case over the last couple of years especially when you look at a club like Shamrock Rovers.

They may hide behind the fact that they won the Setanta Cup and the league cup but to be quite honest, they haven’t been the force they should be.

It’s difficult to know what the expectations are anymore. In my opinion it should be to win the league or go close but for some reason I’m not getting the impression that is the case.

They have a lot to prove and Trevor Croly must realise that if they don’t get off to a good start and are where they need to be, there will be a lot of pressure on him. I expect them to put up a much better fight this year.

Looking at Derry City, I don’t think they’ve been an especially strong team in the league last year particularly at home. Roddy Collins has the skills to maybe rejuvenate the place and make it a much more difficult place to go which is what it should be because it was always the case when I ever played there.

Hype

2012 Premier Division champions Sligo Rovers got off to a blistering start last year but I don’t know if they started to smell themselves and began to believe the hype because they fell off the pace and wilted quite quickly.

I don’t think they have as strong a squad as they did last year and last year they didn’t have as strong a one as the year before so I can see them playing second fiddle again.

Retaining a league title is, if you want to put a number on it, twice as hard as winning it. Looking at Sligo last year, the biggest danger is believing the hype. The players can mentally switch off and I think that may have happened with them.

It may have crept into the team because I don’t know how you can go from the standard they were for the first seven league games to almost being a shadow of themselves mid-season. The rumours that Ian Baraclough was not staying on will not have helped either.

All-in-all they were disappointing because they had a lot more in them and being the league champions you would have expected a lot more in them. That in itself explains how difficult it is to retain the title.

And that is the issue for St Patrick’s Athletic. It’s more of a mental thing than anything. All eyes are on them now and no one is looking at Sligo or Shamrock Rovers. Everyone is looking at Pat’s and how well they are going to start.

You look at last year, their top league goalscorer was Anthony Flood who got ten league goals. That is unheard of in a league-winning team.

But it’s a reflection of how Pat’s play. They all chip in with goals and that is a brilliant thing. The way Liam Buckley has them playing, they interchange quite a lot and try to get players forward as much as they can.

Is that going to be the same this year? If they do hit a bit of a dry patch, will they have someone who can get them goals on a regular basis?

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Anto Flood celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game 13/10/2013 Anto Flood has emigrated to Austalia. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Mark Quigley has re-joined from Shamrock Rovers and if he wants to do he will do it. But if he wants to sit on the bench and sulk he can do that as well. Pure and simple as that.

He has proved that he is a quality player by winning Player of the Year two seasons ago but the other issue is inconsistency and maybe it’s something he needs to work on.

You’re very quickly forgotten about in this league and in football if you’re not doing your stuff.

I’d love to see him produce his best stuff because when he is, he’s great to to watch and an asset to the team. When he is not he can be a liability. That has always been the case with Mark and it’s up to him.

Keith Fahey is the best signing of the off-season and I said this during the week on Off The Ball as well. If he is anything like the player that left to sign for Birmingham he can run amok in the league. He’s an exceptional talent and he seems happy in his skin now. He’s a huge Pat’s fan through and through and is back where he wants to be so good luck to him.

How Pat’s cope mentally is an issue. This year when teams go to play them they’re going to be set up differently to maybe just get a draw out of the game. These are the things that can affect the league champions plus there is the hunger factor as well.

You get the sense they were hungry last year but we won’t know if they still have it until the start of the season.

I don’t expect Dundalk to be up there this year. Stephen Kenny has said it himself that he must deal with expectation after finishing second last year and I would agree. It’s something they struggled to cope with but I don’t see them challenging at all.

If we see a strong showing from the likes of Pat’s, Sligo, Derry, Shamrock Rovers and Cork, I would expect them to all be ahead of Dundalk. It could be a matter of chasing cups for them.

Finally, I’ll be back on the newly-rebranded Soccer Republic on RTE this year. I don’t think they had any choice but to make the move and it’s difficult for the makers of the show as I don’t know if going out at 7pm-8pm did them any favours.

11pm is not that late in my opinion. I’ve spoken to the producers and I like the ideas so I’m behind it and hopefully it does work. But the TV business is difficult so only time will tell.

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Stuart Byrne

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