By Dave Donnelly
St Mochta’s manager Brian McCarthy admits he’s not sure what to expect as the Clonsilla side return to action after 18 months on the sidelines.
The Leinster Senior League abandoned the 2020/21 season entirely as government guidelines prohibited organised sport at amateur level for most of the last calendar year.
Mochta’s were briefly back in action last summer, as they sealed a first-ever FAI Intermediate Cup title at the expense of Killester Donnycarney in August, and finished second in LSL Senior Sunday.
A first pre-season in two years sees the highest level of amateur football in the country profoundly changed, however, with many players’ priorities having been shifted by the pandemic.
The off-season has been a serious challenge to many clubs, with two of the biggest clubs in Irish football, Cherry Orchard and Sheriff YC, rallying after briefly considering pulling out.
Perennial heavyweights Crumlin and Bluebell, who have won seven of the last nine titles, have seen long-time managers Martin Loughran and Andy Noonan replaced by James Lee and Mario Dolan.
Mochta’s, at least, can consider themselves relatively stable with long-time coach McCarthy in tow alongside experienced League of Ireland players Mick Daly and Jason Marks. But the Saints have seen two stalwarts, Niall O’Reilly and Mark O’Brien, call time on decorated careers, while striker Dean Kelly and midfielder Mark Higgins have moved on.
On the plus side, the league’s top scorer Gareth McCaffrey and keeper Craig Hyland, both formerly of Shamrock Rovers, have returned after stints in the Irish League with Glenavon.
They kick off their league campaign this weekend away to promoted Kilnamanagh, who boast ex-pros like Gary McCabe in their ranks. And they host Donegal’s Cockhill Celtic in the qualifying round for the FAI Cup on Saturday, July 4, at Porterstown Road before Wayside Celtic visit the following Friday.
“It’s going to be a strange start, but we’d rather be back than not back. It’s a really hard one for clubs, to be honest with you,” McCarthy told the Dublin Gazette. “At Crumlin, James [Lee] has gone in there, and Martin [Loughran] has been there for 20-odd years, winning things, but I’m sure James will give it a good bash and put his own stamp on it.
“You just don’t know what league your going back to, you really don’t.”
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PHOTO – Martin Doherty