February 18th will witness the return of the Premier Division in Ireland with major excitement from many fans as the league looks to continue its ever-competitive nature. All clubs will look to build upon their performances from last season and see what new talents can be shone on the greatest stage within Irish football.
This guide will provide an insight on how the clubs will shape up this season and look to predict their fortunes come November the 4th.
Manager: Keith Long
Stadium: Dalymount Park
Bohemians have been punching above their weight and budget for the previous few seasons under Keith Long, however, they will look to improve on their fifth-place finish last season with the club being overwhelmingly disappointed to miss out on European football on the final day with their subsequent FAI cup final defeat.
The club had some great performances and results last season including their 3-2 victory over St. Patrick’s Athletic, with the management hoping that the young squad can build upon their experience last season with more consistent results like this.
Bohemians have lost a number of their gifted talents including Ross Tierney to Motherwell however they have gone about strengthening the squad with the signings of promising players in Jordan Doherty and Max Murphy with the hope that Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe can help bring much-needed experience to their young squad.
The young talents within the squad and the great performances in their inconsistent form of last season will encourage the club that they can achieve a finish in the European places despite the loss of top calibre talents.
Manager: Ruaidhrí Higgins
Stadium: Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium
Derry City will look to continue the success of the previous season, having qualified for European competition on the final day. The club finished fourth in the league last season but will look at the gap to second and think they can bridge it this season under the stewardship of Higgins.
The Candy stripes had a poor start to the season with no wins in six until the replacement of Declan Devine with Higgins. The club will hope that he can further improve upon the impressive start to his managerial career with another European finish, to have a journey within the Europa conference league and bringing success in the FAI cup.
The city of Derry has been renowned for producing young talent with many having got their opportunity at the club including James Mc Clean, Stephen Mc Laughlin and Ronan Curtis. The talented young players of last season will look to build upon this experience and hope to grow to the levels of previous Derry City squads with the club investing cleverly in the winter. To bring the much-desired success, the club have been busy strengthening their squad with the signing of players born in Derry who know the culture of the club and have the knowledge of winning trophies with other clubs in Michael Duffy, Patrick McEleney and Shane McEleney.
Derry City will enter the season on the high of the success from last season with a lot of promise for this season with many fans optimistic about a great season ahead. A great season would include another finish in the European places.
Manager: Kevin Doherty
Stadium: United Park
Safety was the goal for Drogheda last season after their return to the Premier division following a three-year absence. The poor finish to the season with no win in their final five games would have had the fans and team peering over their shoulder as they finished seventh, only two points safe from the relegation play-off.
The club has undergone a huge change with many incomings to replace key departures, including the signing of Dean Williams and Adam Foley as well as the departure of young talent in Killian Phillips and James Brown. The key continuation from last season will be the promotion of last year’s assistant Kevin Doherty to manager; replacing Tim Clancy as he departed for St. Patricks Athletic. The club will hope that under his stewardship the club will be able to deal with the loss of key talents to Scottish clubs and maintain their stature as a top division side.
The club have many young players with experience splattered throughout the squad. A realistic ambition for this squad will look to finish in a similar position to last season but with a safer points gap to the relegation play-off and an encouraging FAI cup run, only time will tell whether or not this is achievable.
Manager: Stephen O’Donnell
Stadium: Oriel Park
The club went into the season last year with many neutrals believing they would be the closest challengers to Shamrock Rovers for the title. However, the 2019 Premier Division champions will be incredibly disappointed with their sixth-place finish last season with the well-documented problems of the ownership of the club being the root of last years issues.
An important step for the club in returning to their desired position at the top of the table has been the change of ownership from Peak6 to a local consortium that love the club. The squad has had a huge overhaul of players in and out of the club to drastically improve upon last year. The signing of Robbie Benson, John Mountney and Sam Bone from St. Patricks Athletic will be key in the implementation of Dundalk’s new manager’s tactics on the pitch having played under Stephen O’Donnell at St. Pats last season.
The appointment of former captain Stephen O’Donnell as manager following a great season at St. Pats last season, a second-placed finish and winning the FAI cup, is viewed by many fans as the key component in returning European football to Oriel Park and eventually recapturing the league title.
Dundalk go into the season excited for the future under this new ownership and will look at a European finish as a successful season with the confidence that the team will lift silverware at the end of the season.
Manager: Ollie Horgan
Stadium: Finn Park
Finn Harps have continuously flirted with relegation since their return to the Premier Division in 2016 and last season turned out to be no different. After an amazing start, including the club’s first ever away win against North-West rivals, Derry City, which had people talking about a top five finish, the Donegal side ended their league campaign in eighth place just two points above the relegation play-off.
The club have enjoyed a stable period in the Premier Division under Ollie Horgan despite fighting relegation regularly. In order to continue this rejuvenation period within the club they have brought in players with vast League of Ireland experience; Gerard Doherty (during the middle of last season), Bastien Héry and Regan Donelon have joined the club.
The fans will want to start building upon this extended time in the top division and move away from the relegation fight. However, Harps will have to be realistic in their ambitions and maintain their faith in the squad and manager to continue their stay in the Premier Division, while also avoiding relegation or the relegation play-off.
Manager: Stephen Bradley
Stadium: Tallaght Stadium
Last year’s champions had a comfortable run into the title following a competitive title race until Rovers’ exit from the Europa Conference League. The club will look to their impressive home record as the key to their success, tasting only one league defeat in Tallaght.
The club will look to build on a disappointing European campaign last year in which the club failed to qualify for the group stages of the Europa Conference League group stage, a competition the club and fans expected to be competitive in.
Bradley will be looking to use their great attacking talents and solid defence again this season. The team will look to returning creative talent Jack Byrne to further improve the proficiency of Graham Burke and spark further the artistry of Richie Towell.
The most successful League of Ireland side gained their 19th title last season and will be confident of winning their 20th this season. However, given they will be more determined for a successful European campaign, might we see the Hoops lose focus on their league performances which could bring about a title race?
Manager: Damien Duff
Stadium: Tolka Park
Returning to the Premier Division immediately following their relegation in 2020 the main goal for the club initially is to remain within the division. The club won the First Division last season quite comfortably due to their strong defensive display and will look to bring this solidity into the Premier Division.
The appointment of Duff as manager has piqued the interest of many League of Ireland fans. Duff was an incredibly talented and exciting player during his career and played under many great managers with many different approaches to the sport including Jose Mourinho, Claudio Ranieri and Kevin Keegan. The positivity surrounding the coaching by Duff during his time at Celtic and the Republic of Ireland (before his sudden departure) will have many believing that he learnt a lot under his various managers so the fans will be excited to see his team in action.
Shelbourne will yearn to return to their great period of the early 2000s and the potential signing of Wes Hoolahan in the summer will have plenty of fans believing they can return to those days. However, the club will initially look to their confident squad, numerous new signings and their managerial appointment to help achieve the clubs Premier Division’s status as the first step to winning another title in the future.
Manager: Liam Buckley
Stadium: The Showgrounds
Last season’s performance and third-place finish pleased many fans. The club have been on a renaissance under Liam Buckley since his appointment for the 2019 season following a tough five years flirting with relegation and lower half finishes following their 2012 league title. The club will look to continue their previous two European placed finishes with a third in 2022.
The sale of Jonny Kenny to Celtic and John Mahon to St. Johnstone will be hard to replace however the club will hope that their acquisitions including
the talented Aidan Kenna from Falkirk will help in achieving their ambitions of finishing in the European positions again.
The fans will expect their impressive performance under Liam Buckley in the league to continue and having once again tasted European competition in 2021 (first time since 2014) they will also be hoping to have an exciting European adventure during the 2022 season.
St. Patrick’s Athletic
Manager: Tim Clancy
Stadium: Richmond Park
The FAI cup champions last season would have liked to enter the season building upon this success and their second-place finish. However, there has been a lot of change within the club since November; the loss of Stephen O’Donnell to Dundalk with many key players from last season, the appointment of Tim Clancy and their incoming signings.
The club have invested heavily in their signings; the acquisition of the experienced Eoin Doyle from Bolton and the promising talents of Adam O’Reilly (loan) and Tom Grivosti, with the belief that this will help bring the club closer to their first league title since 2013.
Tim Clancy brought about the return of Drogheda to the Premier Division and kept them in the league last season. His appointment has been taken positively and many believe that he can continue the journey at the upper end of the table that O’Donnell began and avoid a return to mid-table obscurity that the club experienced for much of their recent history. Fans of the club and the league will be interested to the start of St. Pats season as to whether it is a return to normal or this new dawn of success will continue.
University College Dublin A.F.C.
Manager: Andrew Myler
Stadium: UCD Bowl
The Students had a season to remember last year with their promotion through the relegation play-off against the perceived stronger outfit Waterford FC; however, this was a side in turmoil due to their sacking of the manager days before the fixture and this allowed UCD to achieve that much-desired victory returning them to the Premier Division.
The club enters the campaign with little expectation but with all the bravery and determination to avoid relegation. Their impressive goal scoring record last season and their attacking play with the talented young squad will cause a shock or two if other clubs do not take this threat seriously. The club look to promote young talent through their university programme and this squad is no different with no player above the age of 25. This squad will look to impress in the league, keep the club at this level and allow future players a chance to display their talent at the highest level.
The club will know that remaining in the league will be a tough ask but will have the belief that their management and the promising squad can achieve this goal. However, if they do will be another thing altogether.
The much-anticipated 2022 season will bring about an incredible story and fans cannot wait to see what talents are unearthed and what success their club might taste this year. This season promises to be incredibly competitive with many sides vying for a European place and others fighting desperately to avoid relegation and the dreaded relegation play-off. The 18th of February can’t come soon enough.
Written by Brendan McGilligan | Feature Image by ROMAN KRUCHININ/AFP via Getty Images
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