As we head into the 2021 season, we look to see if Shamrock Rovers can defend their title and claim back-to-back league titles, something they have not done since 2010-11.
Last season we saw the feel-good factor brought back to Tallaght Stadium by former Rovers midfielder and now manager Stephen Bradley. Stephen began life as Rovers manager not so good, after a string of poor results meant that he was on the verge of being let go by the board. On numerous occasions after games where Stephen’s side did not get the result they wanted or needed, Stephen was subject to boos from his own fans.
Stephen enters his 5th season as Shamrock Rovers manager. They have come a long way since his first season, where they finished 4th in the league and 22 points behind table-toppers Dundalk. Rovers ended the season unbeaten in the league, something that has only been done twice before and by themselves in 1925 and 1927. This season they finished 11 points above 2nd place Dundalk. Although the season was cut shorter due to the ongoing pandemic, 18 league games were played instead of the usual 33. The Hoops went on to only concede 7 goals in the 2020 league campaign. Shamrock Rovers were unbeaten in the league and then went on to be beaten by Dundalk in the FAI Cup Final to prevent them from doing the double. This entertaining cup final went on for 120 minutes as the sides could not be separated after 90 minutes.
An initial start date was set for the 2021 League of Ireland season, February 26th, but since has been deferred to at least March 19th due to the rise in cases and deaths so far this year. Earlier this month (January) Ireland recorded its highest number of cases, that being 7,000+. With many expecting the surge in cases after restrictions were eased for the Christmas period, not that many expected for the numbers to plummet that much. But all that aside, we look to see if Bradley and his Rovers can follow up a very impressive league campaign by winning back-to-back league titles.
As previously mentioned, Shamrock Rovers have not won 2 consecutive league titles since 2010-11 under Michael O’Neill. That 2010-11 period was a very special one for not just Rovers but for the League of Ireland also as Rovers became the first Irish team to ever qualify for the UEFA Europa League. This gave the League of Ireland a huge boost globally as it was never seen before. Rovers will need something special in order to retain their title as it is expected that the league will revert back to its 33-game season this year. The Hoops have brought in Dundalk right back and former Rovers player Sean Gannon in this season along with young midfielder Danny Mandroiu from Bohemians. Along with this pair, Rovers signed Dundalk centre-back, Sean Hoare. Aaron Bolger has been the only departure for Rovers as he made the move across the pond to Championship side Cardiff City.
Rivals Dundalk have signed keeper Alessio Abibi from KS Kastrioti, centre-forward Ole Erik Midtskogen from KI Klaksvik, left back Raivis Jurkovskis from Liepaja and a number of other signings from other foreign clubs. Dundalk have come under scrutiny from fellow League of Ireland fans, who have complained that they have all that money from their American owners Peak6 Investments.
There is no doubt both Rovers and Dundalk will be competing for the league this season and it will be a very competitive title race this season as Dundalk will look to prevent Rovers from doing back-to-back league titles.