THIS has been an eventful off-season in the League Of Ireland First Division, but, finally, this weekend, the football can start doing the talking.
The FAI have had plenty on their plate. Regarding the First Division, there was opposition to a Shamrock Rovers II team entering, while Limerick will not play senior football in 2020, having not applied for a licence.
It was only confirmed 10 days before the campaign what the format and the fixtures would be, which was unprofessional and not good enough for sides preparing in the second tier of Irish football.
But now, clubs such as Cobh Ramblers can focus on the football, as the St Colman’s Park side host Drogheda United on the opening night of the campaign, this Saturday (7pm).
This term, Cobh have eight new players, as Stuart Ashton’s side seek to improve on their 2019 league finish of sixth place.
Players such as Ian Turner, Paul Hunt, and former Cork City, Finn Harps and Waterford man, John Kavanagh, provide plenty of experience and will lead what is a relatively young Cobh squad.
Ramblers will expect slick and consistent displays from some of their key younger players, such as Charlie Lyons, David Hurley, and Kevin Taylor.
As for the Ramblers opposition this coming Saturday, Drogheda have come very close to promotion in recent times.
Last term, Drogheda lost after extra-time to Finn Harps in the promotion/relegation play-off final, while they also made the play-offs in 2018.
Tim Clancy’s side, who were the top scorers in the First Division last season — they got nine more goals than champions, Shelbourne — will be hoping to make it third time lucky in the play-offs.
With what looks a more experienced and stronger squad, Drogheda are being tipped to win the First Division title and automatic promotion to the Premier Division this term.
34-year-old Sean Brennan provides plenty of experience in League Of Ireland football, while new addition Richie O’Farrell, from UCD, looks a decent bit of business and the Drogs will hope he can provide added spark to their attack.
Cobh will have to be better against Drogheda this Saturday, with the County Louth side having beaten them in their last six meetings.
That includes three games last season. On the opening night of the 2019 campaign, Ramblers lost 4-0 away to Drogheda.
When the sides played at St Colman’s Park, in Cobh, in April, it was again Drogheda that came out on top, this time 4-1.
Although Stephen Kenny scored for Cobh to cancel out an early United goal by Mark Doyle, the visitors would then go on to score three without reply, through Doyle, Stephen Meaney, and Luke McNally.
In the most recent meeting between the teams, in Drogheda last July, Tim Clancy’s side also won.
Although Stephen O’Leary and Cian Leonard scored for Ramblers, Drogheda would score four, through Meaney, a Doyle brace, and a Sean Brennan strike.
Elsewhere, looking at some of the other teams in the First Division, the forthcoming campaign, and especially the race for promotion, will likely be highly competitive.
Longford Town are another side fancied to mount a promotion push. They are managed by an ambitious young coach, Daire Doyle, who was the assistant to Neale Fenn at the club, before Fenn took the Cork City job.
Aodh Dervin is a Longford player to keep an eye on, a tidy player in the middle of the park and who has a good passing range.
Galway United did not have the best of campaign’s in 2019 in the league, but 2020 looks like it very well could be different.
The Tribesmen have invested well and have made a number attractive-looking additions.
Midfielder Shane Duggan, with whom Cork City were linked in the off-season, is perhaps the standout recruit and his experience in League Of Ireland football should prove vital.
Bray Wanderers seemed to have gotten their house in order and Gary Cronin has a squad that looks like it could mount a strong challenge at promotion also.
But tomorrow, Cobh will be hoping to get off to a winning start in front of their fans.