A mere five days before Christmas the League of Ireland Premier Division fixtures were released on the expectant public, with each sets of supporters around the country eager to see where their seasons would begin and end, and which teams they would be facing home and away twice.
Reigning champions St. Patrick’s Athletic will begin their season outside their native county, Liam Buckley’s men face the ‘long’ trip all the way from Dublin down the M8 to Cork to provide the opposition for John Caulfield’s first game as Cork City boss. The other standout tie of the round sees the first derby of the year; Dundalk travel to Drogheda in a battle for early season bragging rights.
Life couldn’t start much more difficult for Mick Cooke’s Athlone Town. The newly promoted Midland outfit travel to Sligo for their first game, and then face Shamrock Rovers at home in what will almost certainly be a sell-out at Lissywollen.
The fierce rivalry between Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers resumes early on in the season. The 21st March will be the first meeting between the two sides, with Bohemians again having the advantage of hosting their enemies twice at
Dalymount Park. The Gypsies achieved their basic goal of avoiding relegation last year, though only finished two points outside the relegation playoff place. Despite this they enjoyed a fantastic year of Dublin derbies, two draws (including a last minute Ryan McEvoy goal in the Tallaght stadium) and a win in the final series of games meant that the North Dublin outfit currently have the upper hand going into this season.
After playing Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers host Sligo Rovers in a game which the provincial side has had the better of the last few years. Once again the pair are two of the favourites for the title (Both 11/4 on Paddy Power) and will have points to prove after disappointing 2013 seasons. Series five sees the return of Mick Cooke to United Park to face Drogheda United, while Roddy Collins will be expected to receive a less than kind reception off Athlone fans in their game against Derry City on the 11th April.
The FAI Ford Cup begins on the 6th June, while a week later Series 16 marks the beginning of the annual mid-season break, which runs until the 27th June.
Of the big three expected to be involved in the title race when the season comes to a close (Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers & St. Patrick’s Athletic) it’s the Hoops who have the easiest run-in on paper. They face Bray Wanderers, Drogheda United and Limerick FC in their last three games, three teams who finished in the bottom half of the table in 2013.
The last series of games could prove crucial in battles at both end of the table. At the top Sligo Rovers host St. Patrick’s Athletic at the Showgrounds looking for revenge for last year’s reverse fixture in which the Supersaints took Sligo’s crown with a 2-0 win at Richmond Park. While at the bottom Athlone Town host Bray Wanderers in a game which could very well decide automatic and playoff relegation places, though this is totally hypothetical.
The First Division fixtures will be released next month, though the teams participating in the second-tier were decided today with the decision to allow a Shamrock Rovers reserve side into the division. Next week I’ll be looking at that decision in more scrutiny and seeing if it really reflects what’s best for the league.
Pundit Arena, Kevin Galvin.
Featured Image By Hugh Mansfield.AC+79 3888 at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons