By Aidan Fitzmaurice
They have never won a major trophy, and have played in European competition only once, but Drogheda United FC are using the Irish Premier Division close season to make sure they will be contenders next time around.
Until now Drogheda - a town in County Louth, 40km from Dublin - was most famous for producing football talent for export. It was notable when the Republic of Ireland played Denmark in a friendly before the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals that three Drogheda natives - Ian Harte, Gary Kelly and Nick Colgan - were in the Irish side, a massive achievement for the town.
But their football team has struggled to make an impact on the Irish game, earning a reputation as one of the country's so-called 'yo-yo' clubs, permanently switching from the Premier to the first division. However, manager Paul Doolin, appointed in September 2003, won five league and cup doubles in his distinguished playing career and has set about transforming Drogheda with the help of new investment.
For next season Drogheda will be fully professional, and Finnish international midfielder Sami Ristila has joined from FC Haka, among seven new signings. Also arriving are two former Irish Under-21 internationals, goalkeeper Dan Connor from Waterford United FC and defender Damien Lynch, previously with Bohemian FC. Ex-Tottenham Hotspur FC trainee Simon Webb has also moved from Bohemians, midfielder Shane Robinson has left Shamrock Rovers FC for Drogheda, defender Graham Gartland signs from Longford Town FC and full-back Patrick Sullivan, formerly of University College Dublin FC, makes up the septet.
All this gives Drogheda great hope of improving on their fourth-place finish last season and challenging champions Shelbourne FC, although some players have opted not to go full-time with defender Danny O'Connor and forward Andy Myler both transferring to Longford.
Bray secure trio
Meanwhile, of the three promoted clubs, only Bray Wanderers AFC have been busy in the transfer market, with the returning Philip Keogh, versatile defender/midfielder Robbie Dunne and goalkeeper Niall Hobbert all signing. Bray's Irish U21 striker Eamon Zayed is currently on trial in the United States with Major League Soccer side Metrostars. First division champions Finn Harps FC have secured goalkeeper James Gallagher and defender Jonathan Minnock on new contracts with UCD hoping to bolster their squad soon.
Finally, the Football Association of Ireland has revealed a major sponsorship agreement with sports kit manufacturer Umbro valued at a minimum €10m over the next six years. The deal - the second largest in the association's history - was announced by FAI chief executive officer John Delaney and John Courtenay, managing director of Umbro Ireland. The agreement is a significant boost for the FAI and its investment plan for the development of the game, principally through the association's technical development plan.
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