The return of the SSE Aitrticity League Premier Division this weekend saw no end of drama in the five opening matches.
On the opening night, defending champions Cork City threw away a two-goal lead before winning late on at St. Pat’s, Bohemians stunned Shamrock Rovers with three goals in ten second half minutes to win the Dublin derby, newly-promoted Waterford FC came from behind to defeat Derry City at the RSC, and a resolute Bray Wanderers defence held Dundalk to a scoreless draw at Oriel Park.
On Saturday, meanwhile, new Limerick manager Tommy Barrett kicked his reign off in very impressive fashion with a 1-0 win against Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds.
Looking back at the opening weekend as a whole, what can we take going into next week’s games, and for the season as a whole?
Cork City have more True Grit than John Wayne
The last time Cork City went to Inchicore, they took an early two-goal lead before ultimately collapsing – so when Conan Byrne levelled it up at 2-2 on Friday night, combined with sustained St. Pat’s pressure, it looked as though history could have been about to repeat itself.
However, the President’s Cup showed that this City side are made of stern stuff, and refuse to know when they are beaten. They weathered the Pat’s storm well and won the game 3-2 with a smash-and-grab decider late on. While the performance itself wasn’t particularly good, the manner in which the victory was achieved in the end showed exactly why they’re the defending champions.
Something is rotten in the state of Tallaght
As is the case in most seasons, Shamrock Rovers went into the new campaign full of optimism – but, as happened last year, they suffered defeat in their first match. Ronan Finn’s first-half goal should have been the springboard to victory – and for a brief period thereafter it looked as though a second goal was on the horizon – but it just proved to be a hurdle for Bohemians to overcome.
The Hoops won both matches at Dalymount Park last year but as soon as Dan Casey rose to equalise with around twenty minutes remaining,it seemed as though there was only likely to be one winner. Keith Long’s side turned the screw almost instantly from there on in and deservedly scored two more within the next ten minutes.
Huge credit has to go to Bohs for the comeback and overall performance – Keith Ward in particular somehow continues to be one of the most underrated players in the entire division – but Shamrock Rovers can’t collapse like that and expect to challenge for the Premier Division title.
Dundalk still have plenty of work to do
Having collapsed against Cork City last week, Dundalk will have been desperate to start the league campaign on the front foot, and were strong favourites to defeat Bray Wanderers at Oriel Park. Instead, what they found was a dogged, determined and organised unit with new Seagulls manager Dave Mackey overseeing a disciplined away performance.
Credit must go to Bray for their display, but a team like Dundak should always be disappointed when they don’t win, or even score, at home. Granted the Lilywhites had a couple of injury concerns but an attack of Michael Duffy, Dylan Connolly, Robbie Benson, Jamie McGrath and Ronan Murray should, in most circumstances, have had enough to get the win.
Stephen Kenny’s side will need to be much more ruthless in front of goal from here on in.
The so-called “weaker sides” won’t be going down without a fight
In the eyes of many (*cough* including our own writers *cough*), the biggest strugglers were apparently going to be Bray Wanderers and Limerick, down primarily to the fact that both now have new, relatively inexperienced managers at the helm and both had had their issues in terms of key players departing and off-field distractions.
However, both will be very encouraged by their performances this weekend. Bray kept Dundalk at bay with a display of tremendous organisation (and will probably feel like they could have won the game themselves), while Limerick went one better and came away from Sligo with three points in the bag.
The relegation battle, which some had assumed was a formality, could prove to be extremely interesting – and tight- this year.
Waterford are determined to make a big statement
Facing a team like Derry City, who finished in the top four last year, was seen as a baptism of fire for Waterford in their return to the Premier Division, and some fans would surely have feared the worst when they were 1-0 down early on at the RSC.
However, many have Alan Reynolds’ side down to give a good account of themselves this season and exceed the regular expectations of a team that has just gone up. Gavan Holohan and Dean O’Halloran completed the turnaround on the night, sealing a huge victory in the first game back in the top tier.
Waterford have made some smart signings in the off-season – combined with a morale-boosting win in the mist match, the club should have every right to feel confident for the season ahead.