Former Shelbourne and St Patrick's Athletic midfielder Alan Cawley casts his eye over every Premier Division club ahead of the start of the SSE Airtricity League season.

The RTÉ soccer pundit believes the top two will remain unchanged by the time the 2020 campaign comes to a close. However, Cawley also says that Shamrock Rovers are much better equipped to sustain a prolonged challenge to the reigning champions Dundalk this campaign.

Dundalk

The business that Dundalk have done is very good and they can give players longer contracts. The squad's already settled and they only had to bring in two or three players.

Darragh Leahy and Greg Sloggett are great signings. I’m a big fan of Leahy who plays with Stephen Kenny’s Ireland Under-21s. I felt he had a real opportunity to go across the water but Dundalk is the next best thing, while Sloggett has arrived from Derry City and is excellent.

It will be interesting to see how Cammy Smith gets on in that creative midfield role. I think they are the team to beat this season. 

Shamrock Rovers

I think they do have enough to put up a challenge this year. I still believe Dundalk are the team to beat but I expect Shamrock Rovers to push them all the way.

Liam Scales is an excellent signing from UCD. They also have Neil Farrugia, who was signed mid-season last year but was injured. With him fully fit, that will have a big impact on the team this year.

Rovers will beat everyone else, but it is the head-to-head games against their closest rivals, Bohemians and Dundalk, that are crucial. If you look at those eight games last year, Rovers only won one, against Bohemians.

Ciaran Kelly should prove to be an astute signing

Bohemians

Derek Pender is a big loss, but they have been active in the transfer market and Keith Long has assembled a good squad having brought Glen McAuley and Ciaran Kelly from St Pat’s. I was impressed when I saw both players last year and I am surprised that Kelly was allowed to leave.

Bohs have also brought in Callum Thompson on loan from Wolves and he is meant to be an exciting player.

Long and Trevor Croly have done a great job and they will be aiming for Europe again.

Derry City

The departures of Junior and David Parkhouse are a big loss. I think Parkhouse offered so much last year, pressing from the front, his work rate was unbelievable.

Walter Figueroa is a good signing from Waterford. I remember him from the game we covered in Dalymount, he was man of the match. But it is a lot to lose, half of their goals from Junior and Parkhouse. And to lose Barry McNamee is massive as well.

St Patrick’s Athletic

St Pat’s are the most interesting story, for me, going into the new season, purely for Stephen [O’Donnell]. I admired him a lot as a player and he is very determined so I am sure he is out to make a real impact this year.

He knows the game really well and does his homework and has his friend Pat Cregg alongside him now, so there is a good little team there. You would like to see them back challenging at the top again.

Robbie Benson is a brilliant signing, while Conor Kearns is a great goalkeeper. Jason McClelland is a good signing and Shane Griffin from Cork is am excellent acquisition, I’m a big fan of his. Luke McNally had a fine season at Drogheda and is back, while Rory Feely is also back from Waterford.

The problem last year was they didn’t score goals, so if they can up that, Pat's can challenge for a top-four place.

Alan Reynolds continues to do a fine job at Waterford

Waterford

Last season was tough at the club so for Alan Reynolds to keep them in the division was key.

The owner is behind them again and they have made signings. Mattie Smith from Dundee United and Tyreke Wilson, who would be well known from coming through the youth system at Cherry Orchard and going to Manchester City. He also played international football for Ireland at Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 level.

Robbie McCourt never really broke into the Bohs team but he did quite well in the games I saw, while Michael O’Connor looked a decent signing having come in from Linfield last August.

Scott Allardice and Sam Bone also add big physical presence, while Graham Cummins has signed having gone through a barren patch at Cork and Shamrock Rovers.

I think they can get in the mix to finish third or fourth as there is not much in those sides from third to eighth.

Sligo Rovers

They have been seventh in the last two seasons and if you look at the signings, Garry Buckley is a good signing from Cork but after that, unknowns.

Darragh Noone has come in from the First Division, Jesse Devers from Finn Harps, Will Seymore from America and the big Finnish lad at the back Teemu Penninkangas.

The big blow was losing Romeo Parkes, he was brilliant last year and then John Mahon, who I am a massive fan of, had that horrendous injury a couple of weeks ago.

It’s hard to be optimistic and the Showgrounds form needs to improve. Where will the goals come from? I’m a big fan of Ronan Coughlan, but after that, I’m struggling. Sligo could be fighting relegation with three other teams.

I think Liam Buckley got a bit of a free pass last year and things have to improve. They are a full-time set-up with great resources.

Cork City

Neale Fenn did not take over a peak John Caulfield squad, they have been decimated from the time that they were competing with Dundalk, so I think the fans need to be realistic as they were the third lowest scorers last season, so the manager needs time.

Turner’s Cross used to be the hardest place to go to, so they have to get that back.

The players that they have signed, Cian Coleman, Dylan McGlade, Cory Galvin, Conor Davis, that’s the market that Cork are in at the moment. They are not signing the best players in the league anymore.

The lads they brought in from England are unknowns who have been playing in lower leagues in England so it is going to be a difficult year.

They will be somewhere in and around mid-table, and they should be happy with that.

Ollie Horgan has added Shaun Kelly to his squad

Finn Harps

Ollie Horgan deserves massive credit. He does his homework, goes to matches and cares so much and I think he has done good business ahead of the new season.

Barry McNamee is a great player, while Shane McEleney who was at Larne and before that at Derry City is another good signing. They have brought in Kosovar Sadiki on loan from Hibernian, while Shaun Kelly and Karl O’Sullivan have signed from Limerick.

You really have to admire the job that Horgan is doing because it must be hard to attract players. They have a big start against Sligo and Derry.

Shelbourne

It would be a shame to see the game move forward without a good Shelbourne side so it is great to see them back in the Premier Division.

Do they have enough to compete in the top flight? They will compete no problem but I can’t see them getting into the top five. They need to use this season to establish themselves and then build on that.

Shels have made good signings with Karl Sheppard and Gary Deegan, returning from England, will be a great signing if he remains fit. They have already given him the captain’s armband and he should be a shining light.

A lot rests on Ciaran Kilduff’s shoulders, although I am not convinced that they have enough goals in the team. If you offered them sixth or seventh now they would be delighted.

All you need to know: The Airtricity League is back

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