5 reasons why you should be watching the League of Ireland this weekend

Your bank holiday begins with eight games on a cracking bill of Airtricity League action.

Dave Scully is in there somewhere, celebrating after his goal gave Bray a 1-0 win against Dundalk.
Dave Scully is in there somewhere, celebrating after his goal gave Bray a 1-0 win against Dundalk.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

1. Fixture gods serve up bank holiday banquet

As we come to the end of the first series of matches, the powers that be could hardly have handpicked a better fixture list.

At the top of the bill is the clash of first versus third in Oriel Park where Dundalk host league leaders Cork, while champions St Pat’s travel to the in-form Sligo Rovers on Saturday evening.

Shamrock Rovers haven’t had a Friday night home game since the end of March so expect good numbers in Tallaght for the visit of Limerick. Elsewhere Roddy returns to Bohs with Derry, Keith Long begins his Athlone adventure against old friends Bray, and UCD host Drogheda.

2. Title rivals’ chance to send out a message

Cork’s blistering start to the season has ignited a little bit of title talk on Leeside and those credentials face another stern test tonight against a Dundalk side unbeaten at home in Oriel Park.

“We just take it week by week,” Caulfield said, urging caution. “Our season won’t be defined by one game.”

Dundalk’s run to the Setanta Sports Cup final means that they have already played 15 competitive games this season. The perils of squad rotation hit last week as Stephen Kenny rested Darren Meenan, John Moutney and Patrick Hoban and the Lilywhites lost 1-0 against Bray.

But they will be back to full strength tonight and gunning for the leaders.

Chris Shields and Andy Boyle White fright: Dundalk missed a chance to go top of the table when they lost to Bray last Friday. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

3. Pat’s concern not at the front, but at the back

Christy Fagan proved again last Friday night that he is more than capable of firing St Pat’s title defence. Two goals against Athlone took his total to eight, the highest in the league, and made a mockery of the suggestion that he’s more link man than finisher.

It’s at the other end of the field that Liam Buckley has most concern. Pat’s are by no means leaking goals but they are coughing up plenty of chances, as Athlone can attest to after last week.

Sligo’s recent goal glut started with a 5-1 win against Pat’s in the Setanta Cup last month and Ian Baraclough’s side have scored 10 in their three league games since. If chances come their way tomorrow night, they’re unlikely to be as forgiving as Athlone.

Christy Fagan scores Top scorer Fagan got two more against Athlone last week. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

4. Long time coming for Athlone

After starting the season with 10 straight defeats Athlone parted company with Mick Cooke earlier this week and replaced him with Keith Long.

Cooke said that he simply could not find “the right button” to break Athlone’s desperate run but he was confident that they could pick up the 28 points that will probably ensure safety for another season.

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That journey begins at Lissywollen tonight when Long takes charge against Bray, the club he served for so long as deputy to Pat Devlin. Will the Midlands club see a change in fortunes?

5. Rovers still paying the penalty

Despite losing to both Cork and Pat’s, Shamrock Rovers sit just one point off the top. Some determined performances and late goals have dug the Hoops out of a hole on a few occasions and even though they haven’t been setting the league alight, they’ll be happy with their position.

One matter they do need to address is the rate at which they’re conceding penalties — they have given away one in each of their last four games now (although replays showed that Luke Byrne’s tackle against Pat’s was perfectly legitimate.)

Trevor Croly might write some off as harsh refereeing but others are down to more fundamental matters like defensive positioning and discipline. Rovers need to cut those mistakes out before they cost them more points.

Airtricity League fixtures (kick-off Friday 7.45pm unless stated)

Premier Division

  • Athlone Town v Bray Wanderers
  • Bohemians v Derry City
  • Dundalk v Cork City
  • UCD v Drogheda United
  • Shamrock Rovers v Limerick (Friday, 8pm)
  • Sligo Rovers v St Pat’s (Saturday, 7.45pm)

First Division

  • Galway v Waterford United
  • Finn Harps v Shamrock Rovers
  • Shelbourne v Longford Town
  • Cobh Ramblers v Wexford Youths (Saturday, 7.45pm)

Stuart Byrne column: Cooke’s departure the right call as Athlone have simply shipped too many goals

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Niall Kelly

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