Wednesday, February 21, 2007

FIRST LOOK

ATHLONE TOWN: 2006 - 8th: 2007 - 3rd

Michael O'Connor has left the deadwood at St. Mel's Park and begins life at Lissywoollen with an impressive new squad. Ronan Frawley, Mixie Harty and David O'Dowd have arrived from Galway United. Paul McTiernan has been smuggled from Sligo Rovers and Davy Byrne has travelled from Longford Town. Add in Colm Heffernan from Limerick and you can see the bones of a half-decent title challenge in the Midlands.

COBH RAMBLERS: 2006 - 4th: 2007 - 5th

All is not well down Queenstown way, and Ramblers promotion challenge has struck an iceberg before it even leaves shelter. Waterford United have opened their dressing room to Packie Holden, Robert Brosnan, David Breen and Willie Bruton. Another Cobh gem was lured inland when Darren Murphy accepted Cork City's offer of a full-time contract. In spite of a fourth place finish in 2006, they were 13 points off a promotion spot; a top half finish will be the limit of their hopes this time around.

DUNDALK: 2006 - 2nd: 2007 - 1st

John Gill's men face stiff competition from Finn Harps and Athlone Town this season. The recent promotion of Waterford United should ease the Lilywhite's task somewhat. The Louthmen could have been crowned Champions last season; a foul opening period eventually unbuckled their hopes. Sean Finn has moved Stateside - but the division's top scorer last term, Philip Hughes, has been retained. Ben Whelehan, David Crawley, Vinny Perth and Anto Flood have been added. The loan acquisition of Shaun Williams from friendly neighbours Drogheda United is an astute move. This squad shouldn't slip up this term.

FINN HARPS: 2006 - 6th: 2007 - 2nd

Paul Hegarty has fanned the flames in Donegal with some frenetic transfer activity. Tony Gorman, Shane Bradley, Davitt Walsh and Stephen O'Donnell are amongst those who have variously moved on. From the Irish Premier League have arrived the abilities of Stephen Parkhouse, John O'Loughlin, Tony Shields and Gordon Simms. Add in the returning Declan Boyle alongside Chris Breen and Conor Gethins and all the ingredients for a sustained title assault are in the reusable shopping bag; Higgsy's squad may lose ground if they don't bed in quickly, but they ought to be there or abouts come November.

KILDARE COUNTY: 2006 - 7th: 2007 - 4th

John Ryan has brought in ex-Limerick 'keeper Austin O'Neill, along with Kilkenny City duo Sean L'Estrange and Paul Donnelly. The migration of Stephen Cooling to Waterford United is a bodyblow, robbing them of creativity in the centre. The Brownstown Bomber, Philip Gorman is in harness from the kick off this term, and his partnership with the on-loan Padraig Almond will stretch any defence in this division given the supply. Can't see promotion in the cards for them, but they may trouble some of the fancied sides.

KILKENNY CITY: 2006 -10th: 2007 - 9th

Last year's bottom feeders may have a new boss in former hero Brendan Rea; but another tough season lies ahead for the Cats. Shamrock Rovers 'keeper, John McGuinness, has come in on loan - he'll have gained a lot of experience come season's end. Most of the mainstay of last year's side has gone; Mitch Casey and Stephen Grant have come in from Waterford United. There's stiff competition for the bottom spot in 2007, they may not retain the title.

LIMERICK 37: 2006 (Limerick FC) - 5th: 2007 - 8th

Last year's top half finish was largely due to an impressive start to the season; Lims lead the table by 5 points at one stage. Their season descended into the mire; mire from which the club did not re-emerge. So Limerick 37 has come to be. Assuming they scoop from the same player pool as the previous incumbents it will be a tough year for the committed soccer public, Shannonside. Their competitors sucked up the cream of their squad whilst Danny Drew was busy in court; subsequently Paul McGee has had to scour low and high to assemble a capable playing staff for the imminent season. A learning curve for the league's newest club.

MONAGHAN UNITED: 2006 - 9th: 2007 - 6th

The Mons were saved the ignominy of bottom spot last year only by the dismal ineptitude of Kilkenny City's efforts. Mick Cooke has made a few changes during the close season. Shane McGeown and Austin McCann have escaped across the border to Armagh City; half a dozen players have been released; Robbie Horgan has hung up his socks. The biggest loss has to be David Lee's defection to Longford Town- last year's top scorer will be missed. Former Shelbourne U 21 striker Ian McCluskey is one of those who will be hoping to fill Leeza's boots. Willie Doyle, Aaron Mooney and Peter Darcy have arrived in triumvirate from Kilkenny City. The extraordinary circumstance of having effectively 3 new squads in the league this season may help to propel the Mons to the heady heights of mid-table security.

SHELBOURNE: 2006 - Premier Champions: 2007 - 10th

A week ago the prospects were distinctly gloomy for the Richmond Road Reds, but the astute appointment of Dermot Keely has breathed new life into the corpse. A Frankenstein squad is being assembled; difficult at this point to see them achieve anything other than notional financial stability; even that is a big ask.

WEXFORD YOUTH: 2006 - n/a: 2007 - 7th

The spawn of Mick Wallace finally gets a place on the big stage. If nothing else this young side will be well prepared under the stewardship of Messrs. Wallace and Dolan. A steady start will be important to build confidence. Fortunately there are indifferent sides around them, for varying reasons, and they may well finish at the top of the bottom pile in their maiden season.

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