The League of Ireland returns on Friday 24th February with a full program of fixtures in the Premier Division. Dundalk were the champions last season for the third consecutive year with Cork City finishing in 2nd place, again, for the third consecutive year! The pre-season Irish Super Cup which was between the two Irish giants finished in an emphatic 3-0 win for Cork City.
The Premier Division consists of 12 teams who all play each other 3 times resulting in 33 games during the season and the First Division consists of 8 teams who play each other 4 times making that league a 28 game season. Both leagues will run from the end of February 2017 through to October 2017 where the champions will then be crowned.
Dundalk are unsurprisingly big favourites to secure their 4th consecutive Premier Division title and are as short as 1.83 with Bet365, even after their 3-0 Super Cup loss to closest rivals Cork City who Bet365 value at 3.75 to lift the title. As far as the other 10 sides are concerned, Shamrock Rovers are usually the best of the rest along with Northern Irish outfit Derry City who you can get as 7.00 and 17.00 respectively. We should definitely see another two horse race between Dundalk and Cork City come the end of the season.
Believe it or not, Dundalk were only 1 match away from making the Champions League group stage, a feat that has never been achieved by an Irish side. However, the Lilywhites went down 3-1 on aggregate to Legia Warsaw after impressively knocking out group stage regulars Bate Borisov. This relegated Dundalk to the Europa League group stage and didn’t look out of place as they ran Zenit and AZ very close in the fight for knock-out qualification.
Limerick and Drogheda United are the new boys in the league after bouncing straight back into the Premier Division during the 2016 season after suffering relegation in 2015. Limerick won the First Division by 23 points, losing only 1 match, so it will be interesting to see how they fair in the top league this season.
As far as the league’s hotshots go, Dundalk’s David McMillan should be in the goals again. The Irishman has scored 35 goals in his 3 seasons with Dundalk and should add quite a few to that tally this season. Cork City will be pleased to keep a hold of Sean Maguire after an impressive debut season finishing as the Premier League’s top goalscorer. Maguire scored 18 goals in his 30 matches after moving from rivals Dundalk in the winter of 2015/16. Derry City will be looking to Rory Patterson for goals again after the Northern Irishman netted 17 times from 32 matches in the 2016 campaign. Galway will be looking to build on their impressive season last year and will once again look to Vinny Faherty to provide the goals as the Irishman bagged 12 goals from 33 matches, the 2nd season running he’s managed that feat.
In general the Irish league should be business as usual as transfer-wise nothing major really happens. The most interesting transfer that could have an effect is Dundalk losing Daryl Horgan to Preston. Horgan was arguably their best player last season playing down the left wing and certainly impressed in their European matches recently. However, in 2015 their best player was arguably Richie Towell and for the 2016 season he was sold to Brighton and they still went on to claim the hat-trick of league titles.
Premier Division Teams
St Patrick’s Athletic
First Division Teams