THIS Friday night, Tallaght stadium will host a Dublin Derby between Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic in what is the standout curtain-raiser in the season’s SSE Airtricity League.
Keith Fahey’s much discussed switch to the Hoops from Richmond Park, as well as Ciaran Kilduff, Jason McGuinness and Conor O’Malley heading in the other direction from Tallaght to Inchicore will fuel the fire even more in what is always a key fixture in the League of Ireland.
Speaking to GazetteSport at the launch of the league at the Aviva Stadium last Friday, Pat’s manager Liam Buckley previewed the feisty opening day fixture. “It’ll be a big test,” he said. “I think it’s a great opener for the league and we’ll be looking to do as well as we can.”
After a cup winning season and third place finish last time round, the Super Saints enjoyed a perfect pre-season in terms of results up until the defeat to Dundalk in the President’s Cup last Saturday.
Buckley and his backroom staff have been shrewd in their transfer activity in preparation for the 2015 season, signing just four players in the form of ex-Rovers trio Kilduff, O’Malley, and McGuinness along with Lee Desmond from Shelbourne.
Does this represent an emphasis on quality rather than quantity for the squad? “I just didn’t think we needed to bring in too many,” said Buckley. “The bulk of my squad won the league two years ago, finished third the previous season and third last season too.
“We’ve been very competitive over the past few years. We’ve been in two cup finals in three years and won it last season. I think who we have brought in will make an impact in the group.”
After such a dramatic end to the league last year, with Dundalk snatching the title from Cork City on the final day, the Inchicore boss was asked who he felt could challenge for the title in 2015.
“Dundalk are going to be very competitive, Stephen [Kenny] has lost only one player [Pat Hoban]. Cork have brought in, Rovers have brought in, and Sligo have brought in so we’ll wait and see how the season goes. I think those four and ourselves all have a serious chance.”
The Saints skipper Ger O’Brien was also at the launch and like his manager, spoke with excitement about the return of the league. “I can’t wait,” he said.
“The off-season is very long. It’s probably too long to be honest so when you get yourself into this situation where there’s just a few days to go the excitement starts to build. The fact that we’ve got a wonderful first couple of fixtures makes it even more special. It’s a very tough start for us but that’s what you want.”
On that opening fixture against Rovers, where O’Brien spent three years as a player, the right-back knows how much it means for the Inchicore faithful.
“Listen, it’s Rovers vs Pat’s. If you win there’s bragging rights for the fans, if you lose you’re going to be on the end of those bragging rights. It’s obviously not make or break at this stage of the season but don’t get me wrong; we don’t want to lose to Rovers, we want to win it.
“It’s important we prepare properly and go up to Tallaght and give a good account of ourselves.”
Providing his opinion on the squad for the new season, the club captain seemed content with the recruitment work done over the winter as well as offering his views on the transfer activity of the entire league.
He said: “Yeah I’m happy. I think most teams are a lot more settled this year. There haven’t been that many players floating on the market which I think is a good thing.
“You can’t have a 10 or 12 player turnaround in each team every year it just doesn’t bring any consistency.
“Having a settled squad allows fans to get to know players and it ensures players have an affiliation with the club which I think is very important.”
Pat’s visit to Rovers kicks off at 7.45pm in Tallaght Stadium this Friday, March 6.