Conor Hayes is here to discuss the main talking points from Gameweek 18 in the League of Ireland.
1. League of Ireland Clubs Do Well In Europe
League of Ireland clubs emerged with two wins and an away draw from their three outings in the Europa League last week. It’s nice to be able to write that. Our clubs have endured a pretty torrid time in recent European escapades with only two clubs being able to avoid defeat in ten matches.
While one can point out the vagaries of the draw have been good to us on this occasion both Derry and Dundalk still had to produce the requisite performance to see off Welsh and Luxembourgian opposition respectively. Indeed, Irish teams have been embarrassed by lowly opponents before (particularly from Wales) so the easy nature of the victories will bring followers of both clubs much comfort. Dundalk welcome Jeunesse Esch to Oriel Park with a two goal cushion, while Derry travel across the Irish Sea to Aberystwyth with a four goal lead in the bag, both should progress on Thursday.
The picture is murkier for Sligo after a scoreless draw in Lithuania against FK Banga. The result is always a dangerous one for a returning side in the second leg but reports suggested they controlled large parts of the games in the Baltic state. With a big crowd behind them at the Showgrounds the expectation is they will ensure that three SSE Airtricity League sides out of three will move on in the competition. We don’t get many good news stories in the domestic game and European performances were always a good source for them, hopefully they can be again.
2. Shamrock Rovers Grab Their First Title-Deciding Six-Pointer
In a truculent affair at Tallaght Stadium on Sunday, which saw two former Irish internationals sent off, Rovers emerged with a priceless 2-1 triumph over city and title rivals St. Pat’s. Rovers record in the ‘big’ matches this season has been poor. They did secure a point at Oriel Park but suffered three defeats in their other games against the teams chasing the top spot, two against Cork and one to their Inchicore neighbours.
But that changed on Sunday with Gary McCabe’s winner meaning they took advantage of Dundalk’s week off to full effect. Stephen McPhail’s mind numbingly stupid sending off for a headbutt on Killian Brennan was the only downside, the suspension will keep the former Cardiff player off the pitch in a season where he’s already been plagued by fitness issues.
They play the Louth table toppers next, also at Tallaght, in what could be a season defining moment for both sides. Both Rovers and Cork will be hoping to take advantage as Dundalk and eventually St. Pat’s get distracted by European concerns. Rovers showed this week that they are well capable of doing just that.
3. Bray Wanderers Are In Trouble
Bray’s final game before the break was a 5-0 mauling by Bohemians and one wondered did the rest come at just the right time for Alan Matthew’s side. It appears not. Although they produced a competitive display at Richmond Park on their immediate return, only losing by the odd goal in five, they have followed that up with a demoralising 3-1 home defeat to Drogheda.
The defeat will hurt Wanderers as Drogheda had come into the game in atrocious form but the Seagulls’ defensive frailties allowed them to come away with a crucial win. The three points also put the Boynesiders above Bray in the table. That thumping by Bohs a few weeks back was that club’s first win in ten, meaning Bray have handed possible relegation rivals massive morale boosters. One point from their last six games does not look good and their travel to Peter Hutton’s resurgent Derry on Sunday hoping to recover the defensive solidity which characterised their early season performances.
One more thing…
I wrote in this column a few weeks ago that scheduling games alongside World Cup Group Stage matches was madness. Well, staging them alongside World Cup Quarter Finals is even worse and it was no surprise that crowds were once again poorer than they had to be.
Only 250 people turned up at Thom0nd Park for Limerick’s loss to Bohemians. This information about the timing of games in Brazil was available to people who organise the fixtures before our season even began, why wasn’t it changed? Does anybody in the FAI care? Probably not…
Conor Hayes, Pundit Arena.