Trio's departure to test Kenny's mettle

Joe Carroll's look at the sporting year ahead

Joe Carroll


Joe Carroll

Trio's departure to test Kenny's mettle

Dundalk will have to plan without Ronan Finn and Daryl Horgan this season

There's nothing Stephen Kenny would like better than to go into the new League of Ireland season with his history-making panel intact.

The group of players he'd assembled early last year for an assault on a third successive league title, another FAI Cup win and a venture into Europe hadn't got Richie Towell listed. The midfield dynamo with an eye for a goal, the best-remembered of which was the one he slotted in from distance to beat Cork City at The Aviva in 2015, had moved on.

Filling the spot vacated by the Brighton-bound Towell didn't prove problematic, however. Same the previous year with Patrick Hoban, who made Oxford United his port of call following a successful spell up front in the Oriel jersey.

Last season was arguably the most memorable in the Carrick Road club's history. In fitting his prizewinning team together, Kenny brought in some new faces, the likes of McEleney. But the team's core comprised of students of the two previous years' classes, among them, Horgan, Finn and Boyle.

As he plans for another continental crusade and a record-equalling fourth successive league title, hoping to emulate the Shamrock Rovers team of the 1980’s, Kenny won't have any of those three troubadours to pencil in.

Horgan and Boyle have followed Towell and Hoban across channel, becoming the first Orielites to link with Preston North End since Peter Corr, in the late 1940s - while, to the surprise of many, Finn opted to return to Tallaght, renewing acquaintances with Rovers.

This is a test for 2016's Irish Manager-of-the-Year. He has already been to the market, and may loosen the purse strings even more.

The others are chomping at the bit, none as ferociously as Cork City. The Leesiders scraped home in last season's Cup final, but were onlookers in the latter part of the league. And judged on their goalie's ungracious remarks at the celebrations which followed The Aviva win, they weren't too impressed by Dundalk's Euro run.

Ronan Finn's inclusion for the visitors will give an extra bite to Rovers' visit to Oriel for the league's opener at the end of next month, and it's derby time again, Drogheda United's return to the top flight renewing an old rivalry. With The Brandywell coming in for repair, Derry City will be on the road every week.

Predictions: Dundalk to play an English or Scottish team in Europe at some stage; Brian Gartland to be refused permission to play for Sean O'Mahony's in the Cardinal O'Donnell Cup; Mick Wallace to sell Wexford Youths.