THE Premier Division’s loss is the First Division’s gain.
Cork City and Shelbourne are two of the biggest clubs in the country and although it was sad to see both clubs relegated last year, there inclusion in the First Division has brought back excitement to what has been a graveyard division over the past few seasons.
No disrespect to clubs that have been involved in the First Division over the last number of seasons but it was a league that people didn’t really care about and if you asked anyone to name the teams that had been promoted from the division over the last five years, I think you’d find most people would struggle.
There is a genuine excitement and anticipation about the First Division this year because of the teams, players and managers competing in it.
Shels, along with City were relegated last year and unlike the latter, many are tipping the Dublin side to go straight back up. Shels have recruited very well bringing in players like Kevin O’Connor, Ally Gilchrist, Jonathan Lunney and Michael O’Connor. It’s easy to see why they are favourites to win the title.
For City, they will be going into the league under the radar. They maintained the majority of the squad from last season and added players such as Steve Beattie, Jack Baxter and Finland U21 international Jonas Hakkinen.
If City are going to challenge for the title then it is crucial that they get off to a good start.
Although it’s a new season and a fresh start for the team, most of City’s squad were players that played a part in getting the club relegated last season.
Confidence is everything in football and there’s no doubt those City players lacked it last season because of the results on the pitch. A poor start and those same doubts the players had last season will creep back into their minds and they will start to question, ‘are they good enough’?
A big question facing the City team is, where will the goals come from?
Cian Murphy and Beineon O’Brien Whitmarsh might not be the most natural goal scorers but they will cause defenders a lot of problems.
Murphy’s pace is his main attribute and will work tirelessly for the team, perhaps works too hard for the team. Sometimes, strikers need to conserve their energy for those crucial moments when they do need to put the ball in the net. I noticed from my short time playing with Murphy, is that because he does so much work off the ball, that when he does get an opportunity, he’s too tired to take it.
Murphy is a player that loves to get in behind defenders whereas Whitmarsh is a sharp player and will link up the play a lot more. Murphy and Whitmarsh should be aiming at scoring double figures but the onus shouldn’t be just placed on these two players and others in the team must chip in as well if City are going to get promoted.
I do expect City to be one of the fittest teams in the division and with Colin Healy as manager, I would imagine they will be looking to press teams in every game. It’s strange to see so many full-time teams in first division and City are one of those. The Rebel Army have impressed in pre-season friendlies and it’s clear to see that the tough pre-season that Healy has put the players through seems to be working.
Of course, experienced players like Beattie, Gearoid Morrissey and Cian Coleman will be crucial for the team but I’m looking forward to seeing how Joshua Honohan develops this year.
Honohan is a player whose career so far has been hampered by injuries, but when fit, the defender has potential to be a player that could be a sellable asset for the club. I hadn’t seen much of Honohan before training with him last year, but he immediately impressed me.
I remember asking former City assistant, Joe Gamble about Honohan and he told me that he is good enough to play at a high level in England. Honohan just needs to stay fit and get a consistent run of games in the team and he could make a big difference to whether City challenge for promotion or not.
It’s the first time in 13 years that City and Cobh Ramblers will compete in the same division.
Stuart Aston has recruited a number of players from the Munster Senior League and it will be interesting to see what sort of impact those players can make stepping up from MSL to League of Ireland.
Sean Barron certainly made a big difference to Ramblers when he was recruited halfway through the season from Avondale United last year and Aston will be hoping his new signings can make a similar impact.
The effect Covid-19 has had might benefit Ramblers at the beginning of the season.
Ramblers are a part-time team and their players will have to work and then train in the evenings and sometimes must work and play a match.
Due to Covid restrictions some of those players might not be working away from football or are able to work at home, meaning the players are fresher for matches. I do expect Cobh and City to make the play-offs but it’s very hard to see any team finishing ahead of Shels.