The launch of the 2016 SSE Airtricity League launch took place this afternoon overlooking the pitch at the Aviva Stadium on a bright, crisp, sunny afternoon.
There was great anticipation from the league managers and players as the official launch got underway.
Stephen Kenny, manager of league and cup winners Dundalk, talked about winning trophies last season but said that the 2015 season is now history.
“I think at the start of the season we couldn’t have predicted that we would have lost just the one game this season over all the competitions, and it certainly was terrific to bring 15,000 people here from Dundalk for the cup final, that was a bit special but that’s all in the past. Every single year you have to prove yourself again,” Kenny said.
“We’re very fortunate in the group of players that we have, I’m quite blessed in that regard; their attitude is outstanding, they want to get better, they want to improve. I think every year there has been a progression with the team, this year we’re hoping to progress even more, that’s our ambition. It doesn’t always work out, but there is a determination to get better.”
The Galway United manager, Tommy Dunne, had a different pre-season to the other league managers as he joined PFA Ireland in Norway last month for the FIFPro Winter Tournament, with teams from Ireland, Sweden, Finland and Norway competing in a one-day tournament.
“It was a huge bonus for me. I was delighted I did go over, it was a worthwhile exercise for me; I picked up a central defender Armin Aganovic; he’s picked up a niggly injury but I think over the course of the season he should be a really good signing for us. I also picked up Kevin Devaney who was over there; I wouldn’t have known a huge amount about Kevin considering that he had a lot of injuries last year but it was a no-brainer for me when I seen him. I think he’s going to be an exciting good player this season. I’ve also brought in Eric Foley as well and I could have brought in more if I had more to spend.”
“It allowed me to look at four different squads in the period of a day and I thought it was a high standard. I definitely feel it was a really wellworth exercise.”
Since returning to pre-season the weather hasn’t been too helpful. Dunne explained, “I’ve been looking at games and we’re in pre-season and we’ve been rained on everyday that we’ve been back in pre-season! We have a few niggly injuries, obviously there’s not a lot we can do about that now. The surfaces that we’re training on, we’re all on all-weather pitches and it’s difficult for the players especially. It’s ok if you’re doing a lot of technical work and we do a lot of that, but when it’s over a longer period of time, five or six weeks we’re on it, the boys start to feel the bit of pinch in their legs; their knees and ankles are sore, achilles tendon injuries, all associated with the surface. When we get down on grass this week, actually tomorrow morning, we feel we should clear all that type of thing up, and when we do clear that type of thing up hopefully we’ll have a clean bill of health.
Looking ahead to the 2016 campaign Dunne said,
“We want to improve on last year; we want to be competing for a trophy of some sort if we can. We were disappointed last year even though a lot of people would of said we achieved our target which was to stay in the premier division and to get a cup run which we did, but we’re hoping to improve on that. It’s alright saying that but everybody else is trying to do the same thing and as I’ve said previously, teams that have come in to the premier division from the first division they’ve been doing their work extremely well and there’s no easy games at all. Its a tough competitive league and I think it will be even tougher and more competitive this season.”
Also in attendance at the launch was the Republic of Ireland Manager, Martin O’Neill, and he said that he always gets a buzz from going to league games and he hopes to go to more this season.
Shane Keegan, manager of first division champions Wexford Youths, is looking forward to the experience of his team playing at the top level in the league for the first time in the club's short history, and taking on Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk.
“It’s going to be a very new experience. There are a couple of pitches that we have never been away too before and certainly for the current group of players and very much for myself as a manager they are experiences that we’re really, really looking forward too. We think we belong at this level, as a manager, as players, as a club and we’re looking forward to trying to prove that.”
One player who had a lot of thinking to do over the off-season was Gavin Peers. He has captained Sligo Rovers to league and cup wins in the recent past and he is eager for the season to start.
“I just want to get back playing,’ he said. “It’s been a long off-season deciding what to do. The family moved back to Dublin and I wasn’t sure whether to stay or go but thankfully that’s sorted now and I just want to concentrate on football. Hopefully Dave (Robertson) and the team can push forward and finish higher up the league and compete in the cup competitions.”
The season’s curtain-raiser, the President’s Cup, will take place at Turner’s Cross on Saturday 27 February 2016 with Cork City playing host to league and cup winners Dundalk. The league campaign gets underway on Friday 4 March 2016 and it was confirmed today that the Cork City v Bohemians game will be the first game on RTE teleivision.
Premier Division fixtures
Friday 4 March 2016
Cork City v Bohemians, Turner’s Cross
St Patrick’s Athletic v Galway United, Richmond Park
Finn Harps v Derry City, Finn Park
Wexford Youths v Longford Town, Ferrycarrig Park
Saturday 5 March
Bray Wanderers v Dundalk, Carlisle Grounds
Sligo Rovers v Shamrock Rovers, The Showgrounds
First Division fixtures
Friday 4 March
Cabinteely v Athlone Town, Stradbrook
Drogheda United v Waterford United, United Park
Shelbourne v Cobh Ramblers, Tolka Park
Saturday 5 March
Limerick v UCD, Markets Field