Fenlon's up for Rovers showdown
TWO-HORSE race in the dullest league championship in decades -- that's the pre-season picture in the League of Ireland at least, as the bookmakers all agree on one thing, that no one outside of Bohemians or Shamrock Rovers is likely to challenge for the Premier Division title in 2010.
The fact that Sporting Fingal are in only their third season as a senior club and are in the top flight for the first time, but are still third favourites to win the league, shows that no real challenge is expected for Dublin's big two.
"I know people are only looking at ourselves and Shamrock Rovers, but I think Sligo Rovers have a decent chance," says Pat Fenlon, aiming to lead Bohs to their third successive league title.
"Paul Cook at Sligo has lost a few players -- they lost one of them to us as we got Raff Cretaro and we were delighted to get him, but they made a few decent signings as well. Sporting Fingal will be up there as well -- those two have a decent chance.
"The other teams, the likes of Pats and Drogheda, will take a lot of points off teams so I don't expect this to be a two-horse race, there is still enough quality in the league for teams to be competitive," said Fenlon. "The Bohs-Rovers battle will be good for the league. There have been great rivalries in the league in the last ten years or so -- for a while it was Cork and Pats going at each other for the league, Bohs and Shels had a great rivalry, so did Drogheda and Cork.
"Now it's up to Bohs and Rovers to take on that mantle. The two clubs and the two sets of fans don't like each other but as long as the rivalry is good natured and doesn't end up with stupid stuff, I think that battle between the two clubs will be good for the league, it will get people talking."
But as the LOI watched the departure over the close season of players such as Gary Deegan, Brian Murphy, Joe Gamble, Gary Dempsey, Tadgh Purcell, Shane Robinson and Jason Gavin, among others, Fenlon does fear a drop in quality. "I think with what we have in the league right now the standard will be OK but we can't afford to lose any more good players," added the Bohs boss. "Just look through the team sheets from the leagues in England and Scotland from the last few weeks, you see people like Gary Deegan, Colin Healy, Joe Gamble and a lot of others who were all playing in the league here this time last year but have now all gone. It's frightening and we will suffer if we lose any more.
"It's a catch-22 for the clubs. We lost Deegan and Murphy to England from last season, we got some money for Deegan but Brian Murphy went to Ipswich on a free. There is a chance for players here to go and play at a higher level abroad, and it's only natural for players to want to better themselves.
"We might be in a situation where we need to sell one or two of our players during the season. It's not ideal but it's how the league and economy have gone.
"But I think we'll have a very good mixture at Bohs this season. It's something we looked at. We had five or six players over 30 and we needed to address that, so we have brought in lads who are experienced but still in their early or mid-20s.
"People forget that players like Paul Keegan and Mark Quigley are only around 24. Hopefully there is more to come from them and they can get even better," added the Gypsies boss.