With the season edging ever closer to its conclusion, Conor Hayes takes us through three of the key talking points from League of Ireland Gameweek 29.
The timing of the FAI Cup semi-finals help no one
A lot of grumbling could be heard from Ulster last week as the draw for the FAI Cup semi-finals placed both games in Dublin meaning a long trip to the capital for fans of Derry City and Finn Harps. The draw is particularly harsh on the Ballybofey outfit who have been drawn away in every round of the competition and will face St.Pat’s in the early game on Sunday afternoon.
A home match-up would have been a huge boost to the profile of the club who have not seen much of the limelight in recent times. These are, unfortunately, the vagaries of an open cup draw. What can be planned though, are the times in which the games take place.
Since both ties are being televised by RTÉ they have made the curious decision to put both up against the programme of Premier League games on Sunday. These are, to make matters worse, fixtures which will garner a huge interest with Manchester United taking on Everton and Chelsea hosting Arsenal.
In fairness to RTÉ they are only following the lead of those in the FAI who saw fit to fixture league games at the same time as World Cup matches. While no Premier League game will keep a die hard fan from a cup semi-final, occasions such as Sunday’s do have the potential to attract the floating voter, either at the ground or on the box.
Decision makers seem to have the view that people in Ireland are either totally obsessed by the league or have no interest in it whatsoever. Anecdotal evidence tells us this is simply untrue.
Sunday afternoon games too, always have a sleepy feel. With RTÉ no longer showing rugby on Saturday nights an opportunity for a game to be played under lights with a better atmosphere and perhaps a larger away support was missed. While well aware that the national broadcaster do not exist to promote the league a bit of imagination in the placing of what should be showpiece occasions wouldn’t go amiss.
Bray just do enough…again
There are three certainties in life – Death, taxes and Bray Wanderers surviving relegation battles. It seems every season the Wicklow club will flirt with the drop and somehow extricate themselves from the mire. On Friday evening they secured a battling 1-1 draw in Drogheda despite finishing the game with nine men. The result leaves them five clear of the automatic drop and four clear of the hapless UCD who occupy the play-off spot.
Even allowing for Athlone’s improvement they can only seem to draw games while the students have looked fairly bereft in recent weeks so it appears once again the Seagulls will survive. It hasn’t always been pretty but Alan Mathews deserves credit for keeping the club on an even keel after replacing Pat Devlin. No doubt, I will probably be writing something similar about the club this time next year.
Conan Byrne deserves more credit
On Friday evening the Pat’s winger put away a classic poacher’s effort in St. Pat’s 1-1 draw with Shamrock Rovers, a result which should ensure the Inchicore side finish the season ahead of their Dublin rivals. It was Byrne’s 19th goal of the season overall and his 13th in the Premier Division, a truly outstanding return for a midfielder in this league.
Chris Forrester is the Pat’s attacking midfielder who receives the most praise and hype and this is understandable given his age and the manner of his goals, but Byrne has been the more consistent of the two this season. He outstrips his skillful colleague by six in the goal department as well as laying on a hatful for marksman Christy Fagan.
What must frustrate the Saints’ support is how a team of their talent and with their ability to score goals can have made such a mess of the title race. They, of course, can atone for this by ending their FAI Cup famine at Lansdowne Road in early November. Conan Byrne is sure to be a central figure in St. Pat’s latest attempt to banish their cup hoodoo.
Conor Hayes, Pundit Arena.
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