With Premier Division leaders Cork City not playing in the league this weekend, the chasing pack had the chance to close the gap on the reigning champions.
While John Caulfield’s men were retaining the Munster Senior Senior Cup with a 5-0 victory over St. Mary’s at Turner’s Cross, Shamrock Rovers had the chance to move to the summit of the table when they faced Waterford at the RSC. Meanwhile, St. Patrick’s Athletic entertained Limerick in Inchicore, Bohemians welcomed bottom side Bray Wanderers to Dalymount, and in Saturday’s fixture, Dundalk visited the Showgrounds to take on Sligo Rovers.
In the first division, Drogheda put their 100% record on the line against Galway United, UCD faced Cabnteely, Cobh Ramblers travelled to Shelbourne, Finn Harps hosted Wexford and, 24 hours later, Longford Town came up against Athlone Town.
But what did we learn from this weekend’s matches?
Waterford are pushing for a European place
Waterford’s impressive start to the season scaled new heights on Friday with a well-deserved victory over Shamrock Rovers, just seven days after they could count themselves unlucky not to claim a point in Dundalk.
The numerical advantage aside, Alan Reynolds’ side were full value for the win. The visitors struggled to gain enough of a foothold in the game and can have few complaints about the loss. Courtney Duffus showed his predatory instincts to score twice, while at the other end Lawrence Vigouroux made a couple of brilliant saves to limit Stephen Bradley’s men to one goal.
The race for fourth place will be an interesting one, but with Waterford sweeping aside most of the teams put in front of them so far, it’s hard to look past them right now.
Shamrock Rovers still have a few disciplinary issues
Shamrock Rovers’ card count was one of the biggest negatives from their entire season, with Stephen Bradley’s side receiving ten reds in all competitions in 2017. Their overall discipline seems to have improved this year, but Friday night showed that it will take time before it gets to the level that the manager would surely hope for it to be.
Ally Gilchrist’s early red card left the Hoops with a disadvantage for the majority of the game, while Greg Bolger’s verbal remonstrating with the referee was enough for analyst Brian Kerr to suggest that the midfielder should consider becoming a ref himself such was his penchant for arguing with match officials.
Rovers are on the right track when it comes to their discipline, but there still remains the chance that it could cost them in important matches.
Dundalk’s watertight defence is becoming the foundation of their title challenge
Seven games, zero goals conceded. Dundalk may have had three draws in their opening seven games (and were very close to a fourth against Waterford), but all three of those were scoreless. Not much more can be asked of the Lilywhites defence on that basis.
While Stephen Kenny works out how to neatly fit all the elements of his attack together, the backline has been performing over and above the line of duty. The old guard of goalkeeper and Gary Rogers and full-backs Sean Gannon and Dane Massey has been as dependable ever, while Sean Hoare now looks more at home in his second season while signing Daniel Cleary has been a revelation.
It remains to be seen for how long this run of shutouts can go on, but, ominously, Dundalk will look even stronger than they already do now when they become fully balanced as a team.
Athlone Town are in for a very long, hard season
When Athlone Town took the lead against Longford in the first minute on Saturday night, supporters must have, against their better judgement, briefly hoped that their season might finally get up and running. By the final whistle, however, the visitors had conceded five and the all-too familiar feeling of a heavy defeat soon enveloped the midlands club.
The season is only five games old and already Athlone have conceded 20 goals – four against Galway United, six against Drogheda United three to UCD, two against Cabinteely (when midfielder Luke Kelly had to hop in between the posts) and the aforementioned five against Neale Fenn’s side.
The club has been shrouded in off-field issues for a number of months now, so it was always likely that the performances would suffer as a result. Still, it’s hard to see anything right now other than a lot more heartache for the side’s fans in the coming weeks.