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With only three games gone in the Airtricity League season, we take a look at the possible contenders for the league crown. This season, we have seen many clubs do some interesting work during the transfer window. For me, at least, this may well be the most exciting season for many a year.

We have seen a scenario develop where Dundalk have dominated the championship over the last five years. Cork City have won a title in that time and have proved to be the only contenders. Despite a very young Bohemians currently sitting pretty at the top, I do not see the Gypsies as genuine contenders. Shamrock Rovers have flattered to deceive and the last league winners outside of Dundalk and Cork has been St.Patrick’s Ath, but things have gone stale in Inchicore in the last number of seasons. But are things about to change? Let’s take a closer look.

Dundalk

Where else could one begin? The Lilywhites have without question got the best squad in the league. They have been reasonably quiet regarding transfers in the close season. But how do you improve a cracking squad? Two players who may prove to be shrewd signings are midfielder Sean Murray signed from Danish side Vejle and winger Daniel Kelly from Bohemians. More importantly, they have kept the likes of Michael Duffy, Pat Hoban and Robbie Benson at the club, though the latter is injured.

The burning question, however, is how much effect will the loss of their manager Stephen Kenny have? The Dubliner has taken up the role as Irish U21 boss and will be the senior manager in two years. He created the Dundalk dynasty with swashbuckling football and incredible belief in their squad. New manager Vinny Perth is surely in a no-win situation. Win the league and it is expected. Finishing anywhere else will be seen as a major failure. Will players react this season or will we see a slight drop in levels? If so, then the door will be open. Draws in their opening league games against Sligo Rovers and newly-promoted Finn Harps suggests a tougher campaign this season, however, a win at Oriel Park against UCD has them back on track.

Prediction – 2nd

Cork City

Many have suggested that this will be a tough season for John Caulfield’s men. Budget restraints have made it difficult for Cork to improve their squad during the window. Unlike Dundalk, they have lost a key player in winger Kieran Sadlier to Doncaster. The 24-year-old scored 26 goals last season and created 13 assists. That is a huge loss for the Turners Cross club.

They have made some good signings despite the budget cuts. Defender Garry Comerford has joined from Waterford Utd, plus 20-year-old promising striker James Tilly has joined on loan from Brighton. But they need to make an impact and quickly. They have a young side and the lack of experience appears to have shown in their opening games. Two defeats at St.Pat’s and at home to Waterford have not inspired confidence. But since, the Turners Cross outfit gained three points at Sligo. It is a long season however for Cork, but they look like a side who may struggle for goals in the short-term.

Prediction – 3rd

St Patrick’s Athletic

It has been a difficult few seasons for the Saints. They flirted with relegation two seasons ago and although last season did see improvement, things had got a little bit stale under Liam Buckley. Buckley is a top manager and will make improvements at his new club Sligo Rovers. New boss Harry Kenny worked under Buckley the last time the South Dublin side won the league and he did a very good job managing Bray Wanderers. Crucially, he has been backed very well in the transfer market. The Saints have improved their squad hugely, and each one of their signings look impressive. Striker Mikey Drennan and midfield maestro Rhys McCabe have both joined from Sligo. Goal-scoring midfielder Brandon Miele and target man Gary Shaw have joined from south Dublin rivals Shamrock Rovers.

Dave Webster was excellent at the heart of Waterford’s defence last year and should form a good partnership with 22 year old Kevin Toner. Impressively, the Richmond Park side managed to persuade former player Chris Forrester to return. The highly-rated Forrester was fantastic when he was last at the club and returns a player with more maturity in his game after a spell at Peterborough and short spell at Aberdeen. With the signings, St. Pat’s have made, and the fact that they have seven points from their opening three games, it would be a mistake to ignore a possible title challenge.

Prediction – 4th

Shamrock Rovers

Finally but not least are the hoops from Tallaght. Shamrock Rovers are the biggest club in the country and have won the league a record 17 times. They possess a very strong budget and the new stadium in Tallaght has the best facilities in the league. Stephen Bradley’s side have flattered to deceive in the last number of years. That said, the team who finished third last season improved as the season went on. With a possible dip in Dundalk and Cork, this season could present an opportunity for Rovers to get closer to the magic number of 20 league titles.

Despite the loss of some players, they do look as though they have improved their squad. 22-year-old Jack Byrne has returned from England. The highly-rated midfielder will be eager to reignite his career in midfield that is already very strong. Midfielder Aaron McEneff has joined from Derry City. The club already have quality midfielders on their books in Dylan Watts, Ronan Finn and Greg Bolger. Slow starters in the last few seasons, Rovers have six points from their first three games this season. Last time out, they lost to their bitter rivals Bohemians at Dalymount Park. To win the title they may well need a prolific striker. Could new signing Orhan Vojic be the joker in the pack? The Austrian striker will be looking to get amongst the goals. Englishman Dan Carr has scored 11 goals for the club and if he can improve his scoring exploits, then I believe Rovers will be champions.

Prediction – 1st