Rebels set to steal title from depleted Dundalk
It is still difficult to comprehend just how good Dundalk were in 2016 but they don’t appeal at short prices to land a fourth League of Ireland title in succession.
They completed a third straight SSE Airtricity League title win last October and were almost top of their Europa League group after three matches. They would even have had high hopes of qualifying for the knockout round if Dane Massey’s header against Zenit had gone in rather than hitting the post.
Inevitably, their success led to players leaving, and Sky Bet Championship side Preston snapped up Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle. However, the departure of Ronan Finn to Shamrock Rovers left Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny particularly sore. The off-season was far from straightforward behind the scenes at Oriel Park even without the laying of a new artificial surface.
There is no doubt that they were the best team in the league last season but Cork were dogged rivals and, indeed, got the better of the County Louth side in the FAI Cup final. Cork look big at 3-1 to finally reach the promised land under John Caulfield.
That Sean Maguire stayed at Turner’s Cross was somewhat surprising, yet the biggest positive of the off-season for Cork. He will score goals with abandon and the Leesiders are basically rock-solid all over the pitch, with Shane Griffin one to watch at the back after leaving Reading.
Cork tend not to slip up against the weaker teams and they have improved markedly in their matches against Dundalk. One of their biggest rivals this season could prove to be Derry City, who are value at 20-1 too.
Managed by the never-less-than-enigmatic Kenny Shiels, Derry were the surprise side last season, finishing third and only a very respectable eight points off Cork. With so many young players, they are unexposed, and have a superb attacking unit that centres around Rory Patterson.
Playmaker Aaron McEneff has the world at his feet at this level, while the temporary move to Buncrana is probably not a major negative. An excellent side to watch, they have the makings of serious contenders at a price.
There are some big names behind the scenes at Shamrock Rovers with Stephen McPhail and Damien Duff in the building at Tallaght but Stephen Bradley’s side are far from proven and it is not easy to predict how their new signings will work out. They have a whopping 22 points to find with Dundalk and while they look nearly certain to narrow that gap, they do not make much appeal at the prices.
In Division One, Waterford are spending like a well-established Premier Division side. If Mark O’Sullivan stays fit, they could be good things for promotion under Alan Reynolds.
Cork City to win Premier Division
2pt 3-1 Ladbrokes
Derry City to win Premier Division
1pt 20-1 Ladbrokes
Waterford United to win Division One
3pts Evens BoyleSports
Lilywhites hungry for further success
Dundalk captain Stephen O’Donnell offers his insight
We are hungry at Dundalk for a historic fourth SSE Airtricity League title but we are realistic that this is going to be a seriously tough challenge.
It is hard to believe how far this Dundalk team has come since Stephen Kenny joined and our European experiences last year left us hungry for more. However, our priority each season is to win the league and that has not changed.
Pre-season has gone well. With a lot of turnover in players, it takes a while for everyone to gel and we needed the President’s Cup game against Cork. While we were disappointed to lose 3-0, that Turner’s Cross game was a big help to us.
It’s going to be an extremely competitive league this year, with a lot of strength indepth, so we just have to concentrate on getting our house in order and dedicate ourselves totally once more and see where that takes us.
I believe that in all my years playing in the League of Ireland, this is definitely the most competitive campaign in the offing. Some of the strongest squads I’ve seen have been put together.
Whether the ten-team Premier Division in 2018 will help or not is another matter. I don’t know the full ins and outs but, from a player’s point of view and a fans’, I think it’s a bit mundane playing each team repetitively throughout out the season.
We’re hopeful that Michael Duffy will be among the goals this year. He has a great strike from both feet and makes excellent runs. The ex-Celtic man could be a massive signing for us.
It’s hard to see past Waterford in Division One but in the top tier, you can be sure we will be giving it everything to pursue a fourth successive win.
Galway can get season off to a flyer
What a cracker we have at Oriel Park with champions Dundalk hosting Shamrock Rovers as the League of Ireland returns tonight.
When these sides clashed late last season, the Lilywhites were 1-3 shots. Tonight, they could even touch even-money, with layers unsure what to expect.
Shamrock Rovers have made a lot of midfield signings and can be expected to be a leaner, tougher outfit this season. Dundalk are also not familiar with the new surface and the prices are difficult to argue with.
Two of the hardest teams to predict this season, promoted Limerick and Sligo, clash at Markets Field. Limerick showed defensive frailties last season and Sligo were very strong in the second half, so Rovers appeal at 7-2.
Galway United seem a shade big at home to Drogheda, a side they will expect to finish ahead of this season. United have improved in the off-season and are in excellent physical shape. Drogheda may struggle to stay up this season.
Cabinteely face UCD in their derby game in Division One. Chance Cabo at 10-3, with the university side having lost
some key players in the off-season.
2pt 13-10 bet365
1pt 10-3 bet365
1pt 7-2 bet365