Dundalk get dream start
Dundalk 2 Shamrock Rovers 1
New season, new pitch, new faces - but the same old story at the top of the Irish football tree as talk of Dundalk's demise looks, already, to be wide of the mark.
The champions made a real statement about their hopes of following Shamrock Rovers' example of winning four titles in a row with a thrilling, pulsating 2-1 win over the Hoops.
A very healthy Oriel Park crowd of 4,746 - and big gates were the trend across the league on opening night - had a lot to take in on a night when passion, pride and points were all up for grabs.
Three goals, a flurry of bookings, a red card, three goals and the three points for Dundalk, though Rovers came very, very close to nicking a point as Sean Boyd's injury-time effort, the last kick of the ball, came off the crossbar.
The hope at Rovers for 2017 is to bridge the gap on Dundalk and while manager Stephen Bradley will be pleased to see more bite from his side, the Hoops - and the rest - still have some catching up to do.
The Dundalk set-up have been bemused by all the pre-season talk, albeit outside of their camp, of how the champions would struggle in 2017, given their departures.
But while Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle and Ronan Finn are difficult to replace, manager Kenny appears to be happy with his lot and with only one new face in their starting XI, Dundalk had the most-settled team across the league last night, compared to the line-ups from the 2016 season.
Kenny had five new signings on the bench but only one new arrival, ex-Celtic man Michael Duffy, was in the starting line-up. It was a case of new season and new broom for Rovers, who handed debuts to seven players, though ex-Dundalk hero Finn began the match on the bench.
Oddly, it was the supposedly-settled side of Dundalk which looked out of sorts at times, with a series of errors in defence early on almost gifting chances to the away side.
In the fourth minute, a slip by Seán Gannon in the Dundalk defence carved out an opening for Brandon Miele, not long after that it was a poor ball from Brian Gartland which gave his former team-mate Darren Meenan an opportunity, and on 27 minutes it was Paddy Barrett'sturn to give it away, again Meenan the one to profit.
Rovers had a lot of possession in that tricky early spell for the home side, the midfield showing some of the bite which was missing last season and which Stephen Bradley had demanded to see in 2017, Ryan Connolly a force in that area for the Hoops.
But Dundalk have some true class in their side and as the half wore on, Patrick McEleney was a really dominant figure who asked a series of questions of the Rovers side.
McEleney and Robbie Benson contributed to last season's successes at home and in Europe but there is definitely more to come from the duo, and it was indeed Benson who got the goal which put the champions in front.
John Mountney did the build-up work in midfield, his ball sent debutant Duffy into space on the left and at the second time of asking, Duffy got in a cross which Benson tucked past Tomer Chencinski in the Rovers goal.
Six minutes into the second half Dundalk were able to double the lead, a defensive lapse again the key ingredient, as Rovers defender Daniel Devine was caught in possession by McEleney and his cross was just perfect for the unmarked Ciaran Kilduff.
Rovers summoned Finn from the bench but it was a tough night for him on this return to Oriel Park as Finn was soon booked after a tussle with Stephen O'Donnell.
Seán Boyd and Graham Burke were also thrown into the action but debutant Burke would a memorable, and then forgettable, impact.
He struck past keeper Gabriel Sava on 76 minutes, after a ball in from Meenan fell his way, to give Rovers a lifeline but within two minutes Burke's race was run, the ex-Aston Villa man shown a straight red card after he followed through on a tackle on Jamie McGrath. Boyd's effort almost beat Sava but Dundalk stood firm as another title defence begins.