League Preview: Waterford -v- Shelbourne


Waterford celebrating promotion at the end of last season. Credit: Liam Coughlan (ETPhotos)


Waterford make a return to the top tier of Irish football after a two-year hiatus and their opening game of the 2024 SSE Airtricity League Premier Division season is guaranteed to attract a capacity crowd to the 5,000 seater Regional Sports Centre (RSC) in Waterford on Friday night.

After the euphoria of their Promotion Play Off win over Cork City at the end of the 2023 season, manager Keith Long has been rebuilding his squad with a view to ensuring they maintain their status as a top tier side in what is an extremely competitive Premier Division arena.

Eight of the 2023 squad have moved on (a ninth, Dean Larkin was on loan with Cobh Ramblers last season and continues to remain with them for this season), while nine players are either under contract or have re-signed for another season.

Long has brought ten players to the RSC while another, Barry Baggley, continues to remain on loan from Fleetwood Town for another season.

Last season’s leading scorer Ronan Coughlan (now with Fleetwood Town) will be a major loss for the Blues having netted 36 goals in all competitions, and Long will be looking to one of his new recruits, striker Padraig Amond, to fill the void left by Coughlan.

Waterford will be happy with their pre-season results as they recorded three wins in the lead up to Friday night’s opener. They beat Sligo Rovers 2-1 in a friendly played in Dublin, overcame MSL side Wilton United by 2-0 in the Munster Senior Cup and defeated Treaty United by 3-2, both of those games played at the RSC.

Long is very much looking forward to the challenges presented by Premier Division football and he spoke at length to extratime.com in advance of Friday night’s big game. He said “Lots of players from last year who were integral to our promotion left the football club so we tried to regenerate the squad during the off season.

“But I’m really excited about the season ahead. We know that it's going to be extremely difficult for a team that's come up from the First Division. 

“Our job is to make sure that we're as competitive as we possibly can be. What that looks like from our point of view is still to be determined but we want to be highly competitive. 

“We want to make sure that we represent the club really well. We want to play to our strengths, be organised, be disciplined and be difficult to play against. 

He then added: “We're under no illusion in terms of the task that faces us. We're very much the underdogs. We're probably everybody's favourite for relegation and we can use that to our advantage. Maybe we might surprise a few people. 

“But we know the challenge ahead. We're an experienced group between myself, the backroom staff and we're excited and invigorated by the challenge ahead.”

But do Waterford enjoy the tag of being underdogs?

“There's not a lot I can do about it,” Long quipped. “The team that comes up from the First Division is always the team that's heavily fancied to be relegated. 


Shelbourne had a successful 2023 season when they reached the FAI Cup Final, finished fourth in the league and qualified for European football in 2024.

Ambitious Manager Damian Duff will no doubt be setting the bar even higher this season and annexing the Previous Division title will be his main priority, a feat last accomplished in the 2006 season.

That journey begins on Friday night when they head for the south east and a clash with the Blues. Duff has the spine of the 2023 side still at the club and will be expecting to get off on the right foot and pick up all three points, thus setting the tone for the rest of the season.

Shels have 15 of last year’s squad confirmed for the year ahead, and while 12 others did leave the club, they recruited well by bringing players with vast Premier Division experience such as Keith Ward (Dundalk), Sean Gannon (Shamrock Rovers) and John O’ Sullivan (Bohemians).

The Reds had a good preseason with a 1-1 draw against Wexford FC, a 2-0 win over Cork City and they finished their preparation for Friday night’s opener with a comprehensive 7-0 win over Longford Town in Abbotstown.

Duff spoke with the Shelbourne media team this week and revealed himself to be very happy with his squad depth heading into the new season.

“Is it the strongest squad we have had? That’s there for everyone to see, it’s the best squad I’ve had at Shels, probably the best squad we’ve had as a club in 15+ years, they are a great group, brilliant mentality, individually we have game changers.

“It’s up to you fans to have discussion over a pint and compare it with squads down the years, when was the last time we had a squad as strong.

“We all feel we’re in a really strong position going into the new season, it’s all well having a good squad the challenge then is finding your best eleven and picking up results week in, week out.”

“We’ve a bench now, and there’ll be a bit of learning in managing that for me, there’s some really good players who won’t start, but it’s not about keeping everyone happy, we’ll do what we always have here.”

Referee: Kevin O’ Sullivan


4.952 fans crammed into the RSC in Waterford for the last meeting between these two sides.

The FAI Cup Semi Final of October 2022 pitted these two sides together for the right to play in the final at the Aviva Stadium in November 2022 and it was the Damian Duff’s side which earned that right by virtue of 1-0 win over their hosts, a 16th minute Gavin Molloy goal separating the two sides.

There has been a huge turnover in personnel in the ranks of Waterford since that game, with only two of the 18-man squad still at the club.

Local players Niall O’ Keeffe and Darragh Power are the only surviving members of that squad, with all others and manager Danny Searle having moved on.

Searle incidentally was recently appointed manager of Ebbsfleet United who play in the Vanarama National League, the fifth tier of English football.

Shelbourne, in contrast, still have 8 of that 18-man match day squad intact with Damian Duff still in charge and providing great continuity at managerial level over the last few seasons.

BETTING: Waterford 9/4; Draw 11/5; Shelbourne 11/10

PREDICTION: Waterford 1-2 Shelbourne


Injured: None

Doubtful: None

Suspended: None


Injured:  None

Doubtful: None

Suspended: None