Those pouring scorn on the top soccer leagues of Europe being dominated by the same clubs each season tend to forget that we have our own “duopoly” in Ireland over the past few years. Dundalk and Cork City were miles ahead of the chasing pack last season, with fans more or less knowing that the top two places were settled in the middle of the summer. Indeed, during the last three seasons the gap between 2nd and 3rd place has been: 2016, 17 points (Cork City 65pts, Derry City 48pts); 2017, 15points (Dundalk 69pts, Shamrock Rovers 54pts); 2018 (Cork City 77pts, Shamrock Rovers 62pts).
Thus, it will come as no surprise that the latest odds for the new SSE Airtricity League season from Boylesports have Dundalk as the favourites at 11/10, followed by Cork City at 2/1. Having both teams at odds against would, of course, suggest that the bookies don’t believe it will be a complete walkover, but it does underline the fact that any finish outside the top two would be a shock for either side.
Jack Byrne could have big impact at Rovers
However, Shamrock Rovers, who have been held at arm’s length by Cork and Dundalk over the last few seasons, are right on their heels (in the bookies’ eyes), with Boylesports citing odds of 7/2. Have Rovers done enough in the offseason to close the gap? The signings of Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff look very shrewd. Byrne, in particular, could be the key to connecting Rovers defence and attack. The young Dubliner could have a bright future at the Tallaght Stadium.
Derry City are next on the odd’s list at 20/1. An author’s note at this point here: these odds, provided by Boylesports at Christmas 2018, can fluctuate before the season kicks off in mid-February. Indeed, most of the big UK bookies haven’t released Airtricity League odds, and there is always disagreement when they do. Once the odds are out, you can check this list to find the top free bets in the UK, with the likes of Paddy Power, Ladbrokes and William Hill’s Irish football betting all covered for those promos.
Derry must improve under Devine
Getting back to Derry: The Northern Irish outfit was extremely disappointing last season and Declan Devine is going to have a lot of work to get Derry back to where they expect to be. New signings have come in, but most punters will want to see how they fit in with the Candystripes before considering those 20/1 odds. This will, of course, be Devine’s second stint at the club, but he may have an ace up his sleeve with the elevation of Paddy McCourt into the management set-up.
Waterford are also priced at 20/1 and fans will once again be hoping they can push for the Europa League qualifier spots. Is a title challenge out of reach? Most likely, but there is a sense of evolution at Waterford since coming up from the first division in 2017. Improving on last season should be the first order of business. If they can do that, there is no telling how far Alan Reynold’s men can go.
Bohemians and St Patrick’s both come in at 26/1, with Sligo further behind at 40/1. While none of the trio should have relegation troubles, it will be surprising to see them trouble the top spots. The two promoted clubs, Finn Harps and UCD, are both given no hope by the bookies, with 500/1 odds cited. We know, however, that Ollie Horgan and Collie O’Neill will have but one message for their respective charges – stay up.