AUTHOR: Kieran Burke – @Kieran_B_Sport.
Chalked up as strong favourites to win the First Division by the bookies, Waterford will attempt to bounce back at the first attempt under a manager who knows all about navigating his way out of the First Division, that is of course former Shelbourne boss, Ian Morris.
Even after the soap opera that was the end of last season, Waterford as a club have done well to retain the services of players like Brian Murphy, Junior and Phoenix Patterson and Blues supporters will be hoping that gives them a class edge of their rivals this season.
It should be remembered though, the likes of JunioR and Patterson will be stepping into the second tier for the first time, a division known for its rough and tumble nature, meaning these technically gifted players will have to show they can cope with the physicality of the First Division.
Another concern should be the fact only Longford Town scored fewer goals than Waterford in the top-flight last season with the Munster men notching a precise average of one goal per game. Now, while that was obviously at a much higher level, there does seem to be a big reliance on youngster, Cian Kavanagh to lead the way in terms of scoring goals this season.
Kavanagh managed four goals in just 14 top-flight games in 2021 so he should enjoy the drop-down in class but should he fail to fire it may not just be as smooth of sailing as some are predicting for Waterford.
Louis Britton had been on trial elsewhere in the off-season but has somehow ended up at the RSC on loan from Bristol City and could prove an able assistant to Kavanagh while the likes of Niall O’Keeffe and Darragh Power are others who should stand out at this level.
All in all, the fact Waterford have a manager with a proven track record at this level and several players who don’t appear to have reached their ceiling for improvement yet suggests they may just have enough to squeeze past the opposition this season and earn redemption for last year’s circus.
BTS PREDICTION: CHAMPIONS
STAR PERFORMER: Phoenix Patterson (As long as he can cope physically, he should stand out at this level)
ONE TO WATCH: Louis Britton (If he can build up his match fitness, he could be a big player for the Blues).
For previews & predictions on EVERY GAME across BOTH DIVISIONS this weekend in the League of Ireland, be sure to tune in to S6EP1 of Between the Stripes LOI podcast with special guests: Kevin Doherty, Dan O’Reilly, and Cristian Magerusan. Available here, or wherever you get your podcasts from.