Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny hoping for a successful year after “moving up a level” in 2015

The league champions begin their campaign away to Bray this evening

Stephen Kenny, Dundalk, League of Ireland,

Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

No team has won the Premier Division title three times in a row since the great Shamrock Rovers teams of the 1980s were kings of Ireland for four years from 1984 to 1987. Dundalk have a chance to do the three-peat this season.

Stephen Kenny’s side were outstanding in the Premier Division last season as the Lillywhites romped home with 11 points to spare, losing only one game to Bohemians in Dalymount Park. Even now, that loss still hurts Kenny. “We were disappointed to lose that. We had all the play in that game but we got beaten fair and square.”

Despite last year’s domination in the league and FAI Cup, Kenny expects this season to be far closer among the top teams.

“The team has got to prove themselves again. You have got to keep your best players fit. Every team has to do that.”

He expects the remainder of last year’s top four of Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and St. Patrick’s Athletic to be challenging again this season.

Speaking at last week’s SSE Airtricity League launch, the former Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers manager described last year’s win as “moving up a level” compared to the 2014 triumph. Richie Towell was one of the stars of that team, but has left to move to Championship side Brighton. Kenny has introduced Robbie Benson and Patrick McEleney to the team from UCD and Derry City respectively, and hopes for a big season from the two.

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny is hoping to be lifting the league trophy for the third year in a row later this season. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

“Robbie has a terrific attitude with tremendous energy and a good left foot. He can get us goals from midfield. Patrick can play anywhere across the front six. He is an exceptional talent with a real creative spark.”.

Despite the arrival of players like Benson and McEleney, Kenny has admitted he cannot predict what players may move cross-channel but he says it is an “inevitability” that it will happen. “The players want to have better lives and get to the top level. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s unfortunate we are not in a position to offer them a better life and better salaries.”

The loss of Towell may never be felt at the club, but if the goals begin to dry up, Dundalk may find it tough to retain their league title for a second year in a row.

Kenny hopes the side can go on a run in this season’s Champions League after drawing BATE Borisov last summer, and is hopeful of a more favourable draw this time out: “They should never have been in our round. It was only for the coefficient of the other Belarusian teams that they were there. We wouldn’t envisage getting someone with their coefficient again.”

It may be a historic season for Dundalk both domestically and in Europe, as their league defence begins on Saturday night against Bray Wanderers in the Carlisle Grounds.