AUTHOR: Kieran Burke – @Kieran_B_Sport.
Last season’s title success, albeit perhaps not secured in the flashiest of fashions, silenced any of the doubters who clung on to the line that Shamrock Rovers 2020 title win was “not a genuine one” given the curtailed nature of the campaign. That argument, was always a fanciful one as the simple fact of the matter is the Hoops have been head and shoulders clear of anyone in the league over the past two seasons.
Sligo Rovers sized up the team they refer to as “Shams” for early parts of last year before tailing off pathetically while St.Patrick’s Athletic lost three of the four head-to-head clashes with their Dublin rivals last season. 16 points and more is the gap for the rest of the chasing pack to make up ahead of the new season and with Irish international Jack Byrne returning to the fold, it’s difficult to see anyone making up such a deficit in the space of just one season.
Despite being such comfortable league winners last season, Shamrock Rovers struggled to blow teams away last season, particularly sides towards the bottom of the league who approached games against the Tallaght outfit with a blanket defence mindset. While genuine questions remain over Rovers lack of a ruthless striker, the return of Byrne should help the champions find the key to unlock stubborn defences that little bit easier next season.
It is the strength and depth of the Shamrock Rovers squad that has set them apart from the rest in recent seasons and while Derry City and maybe St.Pat’s will point to more depth across the park this season, the fact Shamrock Rovers can opt to play Sean Gannon, Andy Lyons or Ronan Finn as their right wing-back illustrious the array of options at Stephen Bradley’s disposal.
With that in mind, a league title on its own shouldn’t be viewed as a great season for a squad of this quality, multiple trophies and deep European runs have to be the minimum objective for Ireland’s leading side.
BTS PREDICTION: Champions
STAR PERFORMER: Jack Byrne
ONE TO WATCH: Aidomo Emakhu