League of Ireland season preview as Shamrock Rovers look to continue their domestic dominance
The League of Ireland returns Friday evening.
The Premier Division gets back underway this Friday night after what has been a busy off-season for many League of Ireland clubs.
From big-name transfers to updated facilities and the return of one of Ireland's biggest clubs to the top division in Cork City, this season is eagerly anticipated by football fans up and down the country.
The appetite to engage with domestic football looks to have grown even further following last season's record-breaking attendance figures and season ticket sell-outs across multiple clubs in the division.
Here, we take a look at the 10 clubs vying for League of Ireland glory this season, with the ultimate question being- who can stop Stephen Bradley's four-in-a-row chasing Shamrock Rovers side?
With a first pre-season under newly-appointed manager Declan Devine, the Dublin 7 club will be looking to bounce back after a disappointing sixth-placed finish in the last campaign.
The signing of striker Jonathan Afolabi from Celtic on a free transfer could prove to be smart business by Bohs, alongside the return of former midfielder Keith Buckley from a stint in Australia.
Given the timely opening of their new terraced stand too, there is a sense of renewed optimism around those at Dalymount Park.
Cork City fans, having endured a longer-than-expected spell out of the top flight, will be relishing their opening encounter of the season at home to Bohs.
Always one of the most atmospheric grounds in the country, the Turner's Cross faithful will be hoping that despite a relatively quiet transfer window, that the continuity maintained from their First Division title win last season can be enough to comfortably maintain their top-flight status.
Off the back of an imperious FAI Cup Final display, Derry City kicked off their season last weekend with a dominant 2-0 victory over Shamrock Rovers in their Presidents Cup clash.
Manager Ruaidhri Higgins has bolstered an already talented squad with the likes of Ireland Under 21 internationals Colm Whelan and Ollie O'Neill from UCD and Fulham respectively. Whilst the addition of former Arsenal midfielder Jordan McEneff who spent last season at Shelbourne, adds depth in central areas.
With the backing of their Brandywell support, it looks likely that Derry will offer Shamrock Rovers their biggest challenge this season.
The Louth club get their season underway with a tricky encounter away to Damien Duff's Shelbourne side at Tolka Park.
Having avoided the relegation zone season thanks largely to the desperate form of Finn Harps, there are concerns that a lack of investment in the off-season and the decision to stay part-time could spell trouble for Drogheda this season.
After a strong finish to the end of last season which saw them clinch UEFA Conference League football for this upcoming campaign, there is a sense that manager Stephen O'Donnell is building towards challenging for the league title.
With a number of shrewd acquisitions in the transfer market, such as talented Millwall centre-back Hayden Muller, Dundalk look a settled side heading into their opening round clash against UCD at Oriel Park.
However, given the strength of the two sides who finished above them last season in Shamrock Rovers and Derry, a serious title challenge may be a season too soon for the 14-time champions.
After another sensational season in 2022 which saw them crowned league champions for a third successive year and reach the UEFA Conference League group stages for the first time, Rovers are the bookies' favourites to continue their domestic dominance.
Having bolstered their title-winning squad with the likes of Estonian international Markus Poom, and securing the signature of Ireland underage international Johnny Kenny on loan from Celtic, the Tallaght side look well-equipped to fight on all fronts yet again.
Stephen Bradley's side kicks off their title defence on Saturday evening with a trip to Sligo.
Damien Duff's side enjoyed a fine first season back in the top flight in 2022, with a well-earned mid-table finish and the adventure of an FAI Cup Final run to boot.
The additions of defenders Tyreke Wilson and Paddy Barrett from Bohemians and St. Pat's respectively will add quality and experience to a young side, whilst they managed to hold onto the majority of the squad which saw them claim an unexpected seventh-placed finish last season.
The Drumcondra club begin their campaign at home to Drogheda on Friday evening.
Last season's disappointing fifth-placed finish was balanced out by a superb run in the UEFA Conference League qualifiers which saw them beat the likes of Scottish Premiership side Motherwell.
Having missed out on Europe in 2022, this season could prove to be another difficult one domestically, especially having lost star striker Aidan Keena to League One side Cheltenham Town.
A challenging opening weekend awaits as defending champions Shamrock Rovers travel to The Showgrounds.
St. Patrick's Athletic.
Another side who enjoyed a memorable run in the UEFA Conference League qualifiers last season, the Inchicore side secured a respectable fourth-place league finish.
The addition of winger Jake Mulraney, who had spent the past three seasons in the MLS with both Orlando and Atlanta, alongside a return to the club for talented striker Tom Lonergan from UCD, sets Tim Clancy's side up as one of the most exciting sides to watch this year.
Richmond Park will be sold out on Friday night as Pats welcome cup winners Derry City to the capital.
After last season's play-off heroics which saw the students miraculously stave off relegation in a 1-0 win over Waterford, this season is set to be even more challenging for Andy Meyler's young side.
Having lost the potent attacking duo of Colm Whelan and Tom Lonergan, UCD may struggle to find the goals required to maintain their top-division status for another season.
A trip to Oriel Park awaits UCD, who will be hoping not to lose any more talented squad members over the course of the season.
League of Ireland Premier Division opening round.
(All kick-offs are Friday, 17th Feb, 7.45 pm unless stated)
- Cork City v Bohemians
- Dundalk v UCD
- Shelbourne v Drogheda United
- St. Patrick's Athletic v Derry City
- Sligo Rovers v Shamrock Rovers (Saturday, 18th Feb, 7.45 pm)