DYLAN O’NEILL (@dylanoneill_95) has come on-board as our League of Ireland expert. Here’s his take on this weekend’s action from across the Irish Sea.
St Patrick's Athletic v Galway United | Friday 19.45
After finishing fourth last season, St Patrick's Athletic have been forced to prepare for this season without their best players – Chris Forrester and central midfielder Greg Bolger.
In fact, over the last two transfer windows, St Pats have lost a plethora of attacking – and arguably their best – talent, which included top goalscorer Chris Forrester who's been impressing at Peterborough this season, second top marksman Aaron Greene, key midfielders James Chambers and Killian Brennan as well as striker Ciaran Kilduff. Greg Bolger also departed for Cork City, having been blocked a move to the Scottish Premier League over the summer.
In pre-season friendlies St Pats have largely failed to impress, barring a freak 7-1 victory against Shelbourne. Against Athlone and Cabinteely, St Pats could only muster 2-0 and 1-0 scorelines (and Cabinteely finished bottom of the First Division last year, which is the league below the top tier).
St Pats also lost to Bray Wanderers 3-1 in the Leinster Senior Cup, which came as a bit of a shock to most, since Bray have pretty much revamped their whole squad over the off-season.
Galway, on the other hand, have enjoyed a very mixed set of results in preparing for the new season. In their first pre-season friendly they won comfortably against UCD 2-0 and away to Longford 4-0. But United then lost against Shelbourne 2-1 and Limerick 3-1, though with a handful of changes made at half-time, I wouldn't look too much into these defeats.
Galway have managed to keep the bulk of their squad that survived the relegation scrap last year, whilst also adding the very impressive Vinny Faherty, who was Limerick's top scorer last year with 12 goals. He'll be an excellent replacement for the departing American Jake Keegan, who netted 12 goals last year.
Managing to keep striker Enda Curran will also be pivotal for Galway's survival chances, as he finished joint-top goalscorer with 12 goals in just 22 starts. So scoring goals shouldn’t be a problem for them time around.
Last year Galway were one of the most attacking sides in the league, which led to some incredible scorelines along the way ,and an average of just over 3 goals-per-game. However, having only kept five clean sheets throughout the campaign, something needed to be done to give united more of a chance this season.
Manager Tommy Dunne has taken steps to address the defensive problem over the winter, with the exciting addition of 21-year-old Armin Aganovic on a one-year contract. Aganovic impressed as captain of the Sweden team at last year’s FIFPro tournament, leading the team to victory whilst also being awarded MVP for the competition.
Having leaked 61 goals in 33 games last year, it was no wonder Dunne sought to patch up the defence, especially with Galway's lack of strength in depth.
On Friday night I don't see the match panning out the same way last year’s head-to-heads went in the league, most notably the 3-1 and 1-4 wins for St Pats. With the loss of those integral attack-minded players for the hosts, I'd be surprised if they scored more than twice here.
Galway, however, have kept the majority of their squad and strengthened in the area where they needed it the most, so it should be a close gritty affair with one goal deciding it at most.
With that in mind, get on the 5/6 (Matchbook) for Galway with a +1.25 Asian Handicap start. We’ll pick up a half-stakes win should the visitors only lose by a solitary goal and collect a full-stakes profit should they avoid defeat.
St Patrick's Athletic v Galway United | Bray v Dundalk
I've also had a double of St Pats to score Under 2.5 Team Goals and Under 3.5 Goals in the Bray v Dundalk contest at 20/21 with Betway.
My reasoning for siding with the unders is predominantly because of the absence of Richie Towell – 25 goals in 33 matches will be an incredibly difficult record to replicate for anybody in the league this year, let alone at Dundalk.
Their replacement, Robbie Benson from UCD, is a very good player but his goalscoring profligacy is nowhere near Robbie Benson's. Other than Towell, only one other Dundalk player managed to hit double figures last season – striker David McMillan (12).
Opponents Bray are a completely different side to the one that was hammered 8-1 and 4-0 by Dundalk last year. Last season was mired by financial worries, with several players not being paid for weeks.
However, with the new season comes a new squad and Mick Cooke has recruited well since the conclusion of 2015. Bray have won all four of their pre-season friendlies, including their aforementioned impressive 3-1 win against St Pats.
As well as this, 2-0 and 3-1 wins against Limerick and Shelbourne prove that Bray's squad for the upcoming season could prove very successful if they find consistency.
I reckon they can make it difficult for Dundalk on Saturday evening and at a price of 4/11, I'd steer well clear of a Dundalk win; even if they do find a way through.
Though should Dundalk dmanage to sneak a victory, I can't see them scoring three of four goals, especially missing such an influential player like Towell from last season.
Good luck guys and let's hope for a profitable League of Ireland season!
St Patrick's Athletic v Galway United – Galway United +1.25 Asian Handicap (5/6 Matchbook)
Double – St Patrick’s Athletic to score Under 2.5 Goals and Under 3.5 Goals at Bray v Dunalk (20/21 Betway)
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