St Patrick’s Athletic manager Liam Buckley has his sights set on a top-four finish and a European spot ahead of the start of the new SSE Airtricity Premier Division.
Buckley’s side maintained their place in the top flight after a few scares last season but have rebuilt considerably during the close season and are now looking firmly up the table.
The Saints have added quality and experience to their side in the likes of Simon Madden, Jake Keegan and Dean Clarke and in landing Kevin Toner from Aston Villa, they pulled off a coup, potentially adding real solidity at the back.
With such a successful transfer window a top-four finish is now very much where Buckley is aiming for as he seeks to bring European football back to Inchicore.
Speaking to RTÉ Sport, the St Pat’s manager said: "I think the ambition for all the teams is to just try and make the top four and if you do any better, great.
"The top four is European football for the following season and that’s where all the money is from that end, so top four would be great for us.
"It’ll be difficult; obviously Dundalk, Cork and [Shamrock] Rovers have the bulk of the resources, I think everybody else has improved.
"When you look at the squads of Derry and Sligo and right around the country, they’ve all picked up players and it will be a much better quality league.
"I think we’ve improved too so hopefully the top three from last year will have come back a little bit."
Buckley’s side have an early chance to test their top-four credentials against the champions Cork as they open with a home clash against John Caulfield’s side.
Cork were mightily impressive last weekend when they came from two goals down against Dundalk to claim a 4-2 victory in the curtain-raising President’s Cup and Buckley is relishing the chance to lay down an early marker against the Rebels.
"Cork had a great win last weekend against Dundalk, obviously beating them in the President’s Cup. Again they’re equipped to go well, they’re a strong outfit and I’ve no doubt they’ll be thinking of retaining [the title].
"From our end it’s a one-off game here, we have 90 minutes to go and put a stamp on our play and on our game. I do believe we’ll play well and we’ll see where that takes us."
New arrival Toner is likely to start at the back for St Pat’s against Cork, having turned down interest from Shamrock Rovers to join the Inchicore club, and Buckley is expecting big things from the former Aston Villa man.
"Kevin’s come back from Aston Villa, he was on loan with one or two teams over there, he’s played in the Premier League with, he’s a top player," he said.
"He’s a very strong player, a good leader on the park and a winner more importantly."
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