It may not have goal line technology or have access to the new VAR system but what it does have is good old blood guts and passion. The weekend that has just passed saw the much anticipated 2018 season kick off and the excitement that had been building for the fans was just about to become reality. Following on from last season when attendances were up, this season could possibly be the best one yet. In the Premier League, Champions Cork City are there to be toppled and after their runaway campaign last season the other clubs have been building there squads during the winter break to try and wrestle away the title from the men who are based close to the River Lee. Cork City were magnificent last season and totally deserved a league and cup double. It is going to be a question of who can mount a challenge and sustain it throughout the campaign until the trophies are lifted at the end of the season.
Over the past few seasons it has been a case of who could win the title either Dundalk or Cork City. To make the league even more spectacular it needs more clubs to close the gap on the top two. Shamrock Rovers have been setting things up nicely and this season their fans expect to be a lot closer to challenging for honours than in the last few seasons. I have been watching very closely to what is going on at the home of football in Dalymount Park and Bohemians Football Club have been slowly getting things right on the field under manager Keith Long who has gathered a very talented group of players. If they can get off to a good start this season and keep it going there could be good times around the corner for all those involved at the club. There is nothing better in Irish football than been sat in Dalymount Park when the home side are doing the business on the field and the team are been successful. There are a few other big clubs around the league that need improving on last seasons campaign, Saint Patrick’s Athletic would be one of those clubs that need to turn things around because last year they really struggled and at one stage were in a relegation dog fight. As former Champions of the League, Saint Pat,s need a big season and manager Liam Buckley has to get right on the field or he could be in for a very hard time. There is no doubt that this season in the Premier League we are in for what one can only describe as a bumpy ride. At this stage it is hard to predict who will win the league but I will stick my neck out and go for Cork City to follow up on last seasons success and top the league again.
In England, the Championship is one of the hardest leagues in the world to get out of and in the SSE Airtricity League it is exactly the same. This season there are some big clubs trying to gain promotion from the second tier and as in England the favourites always seem to be one of the clubs that have dropped down from last years top tier. I feel that this seasons strong favourites to go straight back up are the team from the North West of Ireland Finn Harps under manager Ollie Horgan. One other club that need a big season are Shelbourne and their manager Owen Heary must hope for a bit of luck to go with his great management skills, to get this club back up where it belongs at the top table of Irish football. I have sat in the press box on many nights in Tolka Park and the positioning of the directors box is right in front where all the media boys and girls do their stuff. If there were points awarded for passion from the owners of a club then Shelbourne would have a least twenty in the bag before the season even kicks off. I tend to compare Shelbourne with Leeds United in England because they have been on the same rocky road as the Yorkshire club for a couple of years now, ironically to add to this story is the fact that Shelbourne Chairman Joe Casey is a big Leeds United fan and regularly makes the trip across to Elland Road. There is no nicer and more genuine man in Irish football than Joe and if I were to grant him one wish I know he would want his beloved Shelbourne back in the Premier League.
It will be a long season in both leagues but it has the potential to be a cracker. There are going to be more games shown live on TV this season and this has to be a help for the promotional side of the league, but you can not beat the thrill of going to a ground each weekend to support your side. The fans in Ireland call it the best league in the world and I tend to agree with that. Over the next few months if it happens in the league I will be all over it letting you guys in the Football Family know what is happening in the SSE Airtricity League. All we can do now is let the games begin.