Dundalk captain Stephen O'Donnell believes that the new format of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division will lead to an even more hotly contested campaign this year.

Changes to the structure of the league see it reduced from 12 teams to 10, but that also means there will be more games as teams play each other four times, over the course of a 36 game campaign.

Along with those 36 league games there’s also the promise of the FAI Cup and EA Sports Cup, so League of Ireland teams are going to become very familiar with each other this season.

For O’Donnell, that sense of familiarity will only lead to a deeper sense of rivalry, particularly when it comes to the sides battling it out of the top of the table.

Speaking at the launch of this season’s Premier Division, O’Donnell pin-pointed champions Cork City and Shamrock Rovers as the two teams most likely to challenge his side and is expecting some big battles over the course of the year.

"It breeds a bit of contempt doesn’t it, familiarity?" he said. "There’s good rivalry there between the top three top from last year, Cork, Rovers and Dundalk.

"You add all the other clubs into the mix and it’s going to be a real ding-dong league this year and there’s going to be a few springers as well, a few surprises.

"When you’re cramming a lot of quality players into a 10-team league rather than a 12-team league, there’s a lot of good players going to clubs that they mightn’t have been going to before so there’s going to be real strength and depth in the league regarding each club.

"It’s going to be real hammer and tongs from the word go, so our job at Dundalk is to just make sure we’re ready come Friday."

For O’Donnell and Dundalk, the target remains the same and the Lilywhites captain is seeking the return of the league title after Cork denied Dundalk a fourth success trophy last season.

"Our goal before the start of every season is to go out and win the league and this year’s no different," he said.

"But with it being a 10-team league and playing each other four times, it’s going to be a real war of attrition for everyone.

"Everyone’s going to drop points against one another so we’re just going to give it our best shot and hope that we’re there come the business end."

Watch Bohemians v Shamrock Rovers live on RTE2 and RTE Player from 7pm on Friday