FORMER Cork City captain Conor McCormack believes that his old club will be contending for the first division title next season.
McCormack, who recently extended his contract with Galway United, has been impressed by City’s off-season player recruitment and expects a very tight title race next season.
“I expect City to be up there challenging. Before the start of last year City were seen as a club in a bit of transition,” McCormack said.
“They did have a very good end to the season, but this year, especially with the signings they have made, I expect them to be near the top from the beginning.
“Obviously, I know Ruairi (Keating) having played with him last season and he will be a good addition to them. I’ve played with Kev (Kevin O’Connor) in the past. He was excellent last season with Shels.
“He was very fit. He’s always been an intelligent player and we all know how good he is from set-pieces. He’s a good character to have in the dressing room.
“We will obviously have our own ambitions of gaining promotion after coming so close last season.
“It’s important that we have a good start to the campaign. Then you have the likes of the new Bray. The unity of Bray Wanderers and Cabinteely has its positives and negatives. Positive, because Cabinteely was always a difficult venue to play in.
“The negative then is obviously this new team is going to be stronger than had they stayed as two sides in the division.
“Longford Town have shown throughout the years that they are a good side in the First Division and with a new manager as well, they will be keen to make an early statement.
“I’m sure Waterford will be challenging as well. I know they have yet to play their hand in terms of what sort of squad they will have this year, but I’m sure they will be ready when the season starts and will want to bounce straight back up to the Premier Division.”
With the formation of the new Bray side, the first division will comprise nine teams next season. However, the number of games has increased from 27 to 32 meaning that each team will play one another twice at home and twice away.
McCormack is pleased to see the number of games increase in the division and believes that the use of a team’s full squad will have a significant impact on which team wins the league.
Galway will begin their campaign against City at Turner’s Cross on February 25.
“Although you want more teams in the division, I do prefer that the number of games in the league has increased.
“Perhaps in the future, the premier division might expand because of the quality of teams in the First Division. Just look at UCD last year.
“They weren’t title-challengers, but they showed against Waterford, who themselves were excellent in the second half of the season, the quality of teams in the division.
“The expansion in the number of games will definitely test squads because of the inclusion of midweek fixtures.
“Teams are going to have to use their squads and not just rely on 13/14 players to get them through the season.
“So, I do feel that the team with the strongest squad could be the team that ends up winning the league. But for ourselves, I think it will benefit us.
“Last season, we finished very strongly and were closing the gap on Shels; unfortunately we ran out of games.
“I’m not saying that we would have caught Shels had we those extra five games that we will have this season, but it would have certainly been an interesting final few games.
It’s important that we start strong this year. We didn’t get off to the best of starts last season and we were playing catch-up.
“This year we know we can’t afford the luxury of not starting well, especially since we aren’t included in the first round of fixtures.
“I know you will make up that fixtures as everyone will miss a round, but it’s not ideal to be the first team to miss out as everyone would have played a competitive game by the time we play ours.
“I’m sure it will be a great atmosphere that night at Turner’s Cross and I can’t wait now for the season to begin.”