Scully Can Bring Title to Tolka
Scully, Michael, The Mirror (London, England)
THE indications are that the Harp Lager National league Premier title is on the way back to Tolka Park for the first time since 1992 - but five or six teams are in with a chance of landing this season's trophy.
With Dermot Keely installed as manager, Shelbourne's infuriating inability to turn undeniable talent into championship-winning form should be rendered null and void.
Keely has set himself the target of winning the league by next year at the latest.
But with the Reds holding on to all their top players, in addition to the arrival of winger James Keddy to provide the ammunition for the lethal strike pairing of Pat Morley and Stephen Geoghegan, the smart money is on a Pat Scully-inspired Shels making up for losing the title on the last dramatic day of last season.
Pat Dolan's SuperSaints grabbed the great prize from under Shels' noses in May, and although the Inchicore club have been relatively quiet in the transfer market, they have the strength in depth to push their Dublin rivals all the way again this time around.
St Pat's have been the most consistent club in the country over the past three years and remain very difficult to beat. Like Shels, they will have grown in confidence since their excellent adventure in European competition a few weeks ago.
Dolan is happy to remain at the helm after a summer of speculation linking to the FAI and an English club and he has the ambition to lead the club to a third title in four years.
However the big two could be usurped by a hungry chasing pack. Cork City didn't have the experience - and the firepower - to maintain a serious challenge last year, but Dave Barry's young side has matured and proved their potential by winning the FAI Cup in May.
A fortnight ago the Leesiders' performance in the Cup Winner's Cup against CSKA Kiev illustrated why they're many people's outside bet for glory.
And if they can hold onto Ollie Cahill, Derek Coughlan and Gareth Cronin, they have every chance of becoming the top side in Ireland. Despite the signing of Gerald Dobbs, however, their poor strike-rate remains their achilles heel.
All in all this season looks certain to enhance the National League's growing standing amongst the country's soccer-lovers.
Shamrock Rovers earned most of the headlines over the summer for their daring moves in the transfer market - the arrival of Jason Sherlock, Terry Palmer, Brendan Markey and Billy Woods should transform the fortunes of the club, who are still waiting to hear if their move to Tallaght is on.
All four are quality players and with Tony Cousins staying with the Hoops, a place in Europe is a real possibility. If Rovers can gel quickly, they could enjoy a successful campaign
Expect Bohemians' fortunes to change for the better, too. Dalymount regulars were amazed to see the Gypsies looking fired up and under former FAI national coach Joe McGrath, who took over in the hot-seat from Turlough O'Connor during the summer, seasoned players such as Maurice O'Driscoll and Tony O'Connor are enjoying a new lease of life.
The acquisition of Fergal Harkin and Raffaele De Gregorio gives them more options going forward and may give Graham Lawlor the opportunity to find the net on a more regular basis. Apart from Cork, Finn Harps and Derry City represent the main threat to the capital.
Harps have been a Jeckyll and Hyde team in recent years - Charlie McGeever's side have enjoyed great starts to the last two campaigns only to find themselves having to stave off relegation come the spring.
Gavin Dykes and Tom Mohan have moved to Harps from Derry and will be real assets to this team. Dykes will link up with Declan Boyle to forge a rock-like defence, while Mohan - if he remains injury-free - should fulfil his exceptional potential.
Meanwhile, the Foylesiders will miss the Donegal-bound duo, as well as James Keddy and fellow Dubliner Robbie Brunton. …