Over two weeks have now passed since the mid season break; as the League starts to take shape for the second half of the season Conor Hayes looks at three conclusions we can gather from gameweek 19.
1. Martin Russell’s appointment at Limerick makes sense
This week Limerick added their name to a lengthy list of clubs who have let go of their managers during the campaign, with Stuart Taylor being replaced by former U.C.D. manager Martin Russell. It has been a difficult second season for Limerick with crowds dwindling and results not quite up to the standard of last year’s impressive outing back in the top tier of Irish football.
Those in charge at Limerick constantly talk about a long term vision and Russell’s experience at bringing through younger players in his time at the Students should have Limerick fans feeling optimistic. At U.C.D., despite constantly losing their best players each season, Russell more than kept the club’s head above water in the relegation battle.
He also did this while making his side one of, if not the best side to watch in the league. While that may not excite Limerick supporters as much as a coach with experience of winning trophies, the Shannonsiders should be enthused by what the former Manchester United trainee can produce with a much healthier budget at his disposal.
To be polite about Limerick’s style of play under Taylor it could be called robust and practical, if one were to be entirely honest it was absolutely dreadful at times. Russell’s more attacking and passing style also may entice more people through the gates at Thomand Park. With all the talk of long terms goals, let’s just hope the new manager is given enough time to implement some of them.
2. Dundalk just keep on impressing
There was hardly a worse time for a potentially season-defining top of the table clash for Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk on Sunday at Tallaght Stadium. Sandwiched between two crucial European ties many were ready to be forgiving if the table toppers slipped up and allowed Rovers to take advantage of their predicament.
Instead, The Lilywhites returned from south Dublin with all three points and according to reports did so without really breaking a sweat. Hopefully this has allowed them to conserve as much energy as possible for their tricky Europa League tie against Hajduk Split, the first leg of which takes place on Thursday at Oriel Park.
With St.Pat’s dropping more points on Friday evening and with Rovers suffering a severe body blow with that home defeat, the feeling of champions elect hangs around Dundalk. Cork now look the best team to challenge that assertion but inexperience at chasing titles may just harm their chances.
The Louth club were like the Leesiders this time last year, coming from nowhere to vying for the league and ultimately they fell just short. The wisdom gained from that campaign may take Dundalk over the line this time around.
3. Derry City Are Flying Under Peter Hutton
Derry City’s 5-0 mauling of Bray Wanderers on Sunday at the Brandywell made it seven games unbeaten in all competitions for Peter Hutton’s side. Another five star result came at Aberystwyth on Thursday where the Candystripes recorded the biggest ever win by an Irish side in European competition.
On taking the job, Peter Hutton vowed to bring attacking football back to the club and so far he seems to be keeping that promise.
Roddy Collins’ alienation of some club stalwarts, particularly marksman Rory Patterson, looks even more bizarre now than it did while he was at the club. Hutton is reaping the rewards of playing the side’s best players, in their best positions with a style of football they are used to playing. While all that sounds pretty simple it did not occur during the first turbulent few months of their season.
Derry play Shakhtar Soligorsk of Belarus this Thursday and on paper have the best chance of the four League of Ireland clubs competing in Europe this week of progression. What was looking like a lost season in the north-west may end up being very rewarding, both on and off the field.
One More Thing…
This column was published last week just as the F.A.I. debt figures were being released. There was nothing surprising about them, we’ve heard the staggering sums of money owed before but it gave a telling reminder that the dysfunction within the Irish game begins, like it has always done, at the very top. Thankfully we have one of the best paid CEO’s in world football on the case so we don’t have to worry too much.
Conor Hayes, Pundit Arena.