League of Ireland club-by-club guide: Derry City most likely to foil Shamrock Rovers

Galway United’s survival hopes depend to a large extent on Wassim Aouachria

Shamrock Rovers

Manager: Stephen Bradley (ninth season)

Opening fixture: Dundalk, Tallaght stadium 7.45pm – Live on RTÉ2.

How did last season go?: The history makers captured a fourth successive title, emulating the 1980s team, with Bradley revealing half the battle was psychological. Last year’s six-match winless streak to start the campaign and four straight losses in European qualifiers cannot be repeated.

How will this season go?: Champions. Conan Noonan to fill the creative void caused by a perennially injured Jack Byrne. Sporting director Stephen McPhail addressed concerns around an ageing squad by securing Johnny Kenny, Aaron McEneff and Darragh Burns, all on loan from British clubs, and big Josh Honohan arrives from Cork City.

Derry City

Manager: Ruaidhrí Higgins (fourth season)

Opening fixture: Drogheda United, Brandywell 7.45pm

How did last season go?: Runners-up again. A hamstring epidemic, possibly exacerbated by the Brandywell’s plastic surface, wiped out genuine title aspirations. Failed to reach a Europa Conference League play-off after losing a penalty shoot-out to Kazakhstani side Tobol at Tallaght stadium.

How will this season go?: Higgins’s attack is strengthened by luring Pat Hoban and Daniel Kelly from Dundalk, and if former Ireland under-21 striker Colm Whelan returns from a second ACL tear, the Candystripes could end a 27-year wait for a third title.

St Patrick’s Athletic

Manager: Jon Daly (second season)

Opening fixture: Galway United, Eamonn Deacy Park 7.45pm

How did last season go?: Third. St Pat’s caught fire when Daly replaced Tim Clancy in May, before a tight exit from Europe against Luxembourg’s F91 Dudelange. Rallied to beat Bohemians 3-1 in the FAI Cup final.

How will this season go?: Kian Leavy’s arrival from Reading, via Shelbourne, is a coup but any title challenge will depend on Ruairi Keating and 16-year-old Mason Melia delivering 20-plus goals. Last year Keating scored 13 for relegated Cork City.


Manager: Damien Duff (third season)

Opening fixture: Waterford, The RSC 7.45pm

How did last season go?: Fourth. Stormed into Europe by losing just one of their last 15 games, including four wins down the stretch, as Hull City loanees Harry Wood and Will Jarvis made an impact on arrival.

How will this season go?: With the Turkish investment gone and Jack Moylan away to Lincoln City, Liam Burt’s loan from Shamrock Rovers and the Duff system, which led to the concession of just 27 goals last year, might secure third in the final standings. They need Sean Boyd to stay fit and to increase last season’s overall haul of 44 goals.


Manager: Stephen O’Donnell (third season)

Opening fixture: Shamrock Rovers, Tallaght stadium 7.45pm

How did last season go?: Fifth. Patchy 2023 as club ownership changed hands for a third time in three years. No statement signings, 11 in and 11 out, as record goal scorer Pat Hoban moved to Derry.

How will this season go?: As recently as 2019, Dundalk dominated the league, winning five titles in six seasons under the currently unemployed Stephen Kenny. Progress demands a phenomenal season from Ireland international Daryl Horgan.


Manager: Declan Devine (second season)

Opening fixture: Sligo Rovers, Dalymount Park 7.45pm

How did last season go?: Sixth. Won nine of 10 early matches to go top but squad depth was exposed before Jon Afolabi and Dylan Connolly goals got them to a second FAI Cup final in three years.

How will this season go?: Losing Afolabi and Ali Coote, along with goalkeeper James Talbot stepping away and Keith Buckley’s knee reconstruction, puts director of football Pat Fenlon’s squad-building abilities under the microscope. Estonians Martin Miller, Sten Reinkort and Michael Milander need to hit the ground running.

Drogheda United

Manager: Kevin Doherty (third season)

Opening fixture: Derry City, The Brandywell 7.45pm

How did last season go?: Seventh, 10 points clear of a relegation play-off. The Trivela Group’s first act as club owners was to give Doherty a full-time contract that allowed the 43-year-old leave his day job at An Post.

How will this season go?: Full-time manager but part-time playing squad cannot expect much improvement. The American owners need to continually bolster the squad via their other club, Walsall. Losing Dayle Rooney to Bohs could be offset by the arrival of prolific Haiti striker Frantz Pierrot and Zishim Bawa.

Sligo Rovers

Manager: John Russell (third season)

Opening fixture: Bohemians, Dalymount Park 7.45pm

How did last season go?: Eighth. 10 wins was enough to avoid the drop but losing eight of their last 11 matches put Russell under serious heat. They benefited from Cork City’s collapse.

How will this season go?: Securing Kiwi striker Max Mata and Fabrice Hartmann for another year from RB Leipzig could prove vital to survival. Ed MacGinty’s return from Oxford United gives them a proven shot stopper.

Galway United

Manager: John Caulfield (fifth season)

Opening fixture: St Patrick’s Athletic, Eamonn Deacy Park 7.45pm

How did last season go?: First Division champions with 30 wins and two defeats, scoring 98 goals and conceding 18 to return to the top flight in emphatic fashion. Also reached Cup semi-final.

How will this season go?: Mission Impossible but Wassim Aouachria goals would give them a fighting chance. If United owners, the Comer brothers, seek another revenue stream, they need only point a camera at Caulfield and his number two Ollie Horgan to spark a bidding war between Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Waterford United

Manager: Keith Long (second season)

Opening fixture: Shelbourne, The RSC 7.45pm

How did last season go?: Beat Cork City in promotion play-off. Immediately lost Ronan Coughlan to Fleetwood Town but Long solidified the defence by signing former Bohs duo Kacper Radkowski and Grant Horton.

How will this season go?: Relationship with Fleetwood, via the Pilley family’s multi-club ownership, despite Andrew Pilley’s imprisonment for fraud, continues to benefit Waterford as Coughlan’s move to England is offset by a steady flow of League One players on loan.

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