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League of Ireland 2021: how will Dublin’s finest fare?

Can the Hoops retain the league, or will Bohs and Pats mount title charges?

 

Shamrock Rovers celebrating their 2020 league title. Photo courtesy of George Kelly, Shamrock Rovers’ photographer. 

Finishing 11 points clear of second-placed Bohemians, Stephen Bradley’s Shamrock Rovers side will look to retain the SSE Airtricity League for the first time since 2011 in the 2021 campaign.  

Along with their league title victory, ‘The Hoops’ reached the FAI Cup final and also welcomed football giants AC Milan to Tallaght Stadium in a memorable season for Rovers’ fans.  

“When we won the cup in 2019 I said I thought we were only getting started and I felt it would lead onto something bigger. And I think the same when you look at this group we have now,” said Stephen Bradley in an interview with The Independent back in February.  

Rovers will have to try retain the league without their 2020 player of the year, Jack Byrne, who moved to Cyprian side Apoel Nicosia in January.  

Although Rovers fans will admit losing Byrne to Nicosia is a blow, along with the loss of Aaron McEneff to Scottish side Hearts, many Rovers fans are excited to see new signing Danny Mandriou in action.  

“The day fans do come back will be a very special day. That’s the day all football fans long for.”

 – Ryan Lagrue 

“We can’t deny that losing Jack (Byrne) and Aaron (McEneff) are both blows, Jack was expected so although it was disappointing to see him go it wasn’t really a major surprise that he left, but McEneff left for Hearts on deadline day so that was disappointing,” said Ryan Lagrue, season ticket holder and Shamrock Rovers volunteer.  

“In his first season, Danny Mandriou done really well with Bohs, he was the young player of the year and showed what he was capable of. 

“I think Stephen Bradley will get the best out of Danny Mandriou.  If he (Mandriou) plays as well or close to as well as he did in 2019 I think he’ll be a good addition. Richie Towell will be joining in the summer too so that’s also a huge positive – if he can replicate the form he showed when he played in the league before,” Lagrue told The Liberty.   

Despite being lucky enough to attend last season’s games as a volunteer, Ryan looks forward to the day he can re-join Hoops fans for both home and away games:  

“Hopefully when fans do come back we can maintain attendance numbers of around 7.5k fans which was the number of people in attendance for our last game with fans in attendance over a year ago now.  

“That game was a 3-2 win over Dundalk and I don’t think anyone would have been able to predict what would’ve happened after that. 

“The day fans do come back will be a very special day. That’s the day all football fans long for,” concluded Lagrue.  

Rovers’ 2020 league win also means they will have an ambitious attempt of qualifying for the Champions League to look forward to.  

 “I do think it’ll be a competitive league, I think there’s other teams that won’t be challenging but will be tough to beat. Looking back at last year’s campaign, I do think it’ll be similar to last year with Bohs and Dundalk our nearest challengers. Bohs have signed a few new players and have a big enough squad now and same goes for Dundalk.”

 – Ryan Lagrue 

Elsewhere, both Bohemians and St. Patrick’s Athletic will look to improve this season after second and sixth-place finishes respectively.  

Finishing eleven points off of Rovers last year, the Phibsborough side will look to do one better this season.  

Bohemian manager Keith Ward and Bohemians fans alike are especially excited about new marquee loan signing Bradley Rolt.  

‘The Gypsies’ signed striker Rolt from Peterborough on loan until the summer and will look to provide the goals for the 2021 campaign alongside other attacking signings Thomas Oluwa and Georgie Kelly.  

2020 Airtricity young player of the year Danny Grant’s departure to Huddersfield town is a blow for ‘Bohs’, but manager Keith Long’s new four-year-contract is a positive for the club, amid previous Dundalk speculation.   

Bohs will also look to have nice cup runs in both the FAI Cup and the newly-formed UEFA Europa Conference League.  

St. Patrick’s Athletic narrowly missed out on European qualification last season, and have bolstered their squad for this campaign with the signings of West Ham prospect Alfie Lewis, alongside former Dundalk man Paddy Barrett.  

Saints boss Stephen O’ Donnell will be hoping these additions can guide ‘Pats’ back to European football and an FAI Cup run.  

Elsewhere, Dundalk will look to continue their momentum from their 2020 cup runs in which they won the FAI Cup and reached the group stages of the Europa League.  

Both Dundalk and Sligo have an opportunity to qualify for the Europa Conference League group stages, while new boys Drogheda United and Longford Town will aim to stay in the division after promotions from the League of Ireland First Division.  

The 2021 Airtricity League season kicks off next Friday 19 March, the full fixture list for the 2021 campaign can be viewed here

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