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What have we learned in the League of Ireland this week?

The games are coming thick and fast in the league of Ireland with the latest round of games where we have seen 22 goals scored across 9 games. We had 6 teams failing to score, while just 1 match finished in a stalemate. It started last Wednesday when Dundalk scored late to finish off Bohemians at Dalymount Park in order to keep the pressure on Cork City.

Our Cork leaders scored a controversial penalty to see off St Pats at Turners Cross, but could have had many more if it wasn’t for Conor O’Malley. John Caulfield’s men are now 12 points clear with 2 games in hand, and face Larnaca this Thursday in the second round of the Europa League. Derry City bounced back from their European nightmare when they stuck 4 past helpless Sligo In order to close the gap of just 2 points in the fight for 3rd.

Galway United grabbed a massive 3 points as they eased past Limerick at home. It was Galway’s 3rd win of the season that has moved them into 10th place, and just 1 point from safety. Finn Harps condemned Drogheda United to 12 games without a win as they took all 3 points at United Park. That win has kept Harps in 8th and 2 points above the drop, but Pete Mahon’s Drogheda are in free fall.

Waterford took a massive step towards the first division title as they came from behind to beat Wexford, while their closest rivals both failed to win. The Students could only draw 0-0 at home to Longford and remain with just 1 win in their last 5 games. Cobh Ramblers away days came back to haunt them as they lost to Cabinteely, who ended a run of 3 straight defeats. The gap at the top is now 6 points and might be too much to claw back for the chasing duo.

Shelbourne extended their unbeaten run to 5 games as they strolled past Athlone Town who still await a first win under Roddy Collins. The last win for Athlone was May 5th against Cobh, but have since lost 6 of their last 8 games. Neale Fenn remains unbeaten in charge of Longford as they took a point from UCD to stay in 5th, as the new manger tries to move his club up the table.

So, what have we learned this week?

Conor O’Malley proves pivotal, again.

Despite keeping just 2 clean sheets this season, Conor O’Malley is the best goalkeeper in the league to date. Given the lack of quality and individual mistakes in the St Pats rear-guard, O’Malley stands out every time with his key save after save. This weekend at Turners Cross he put on another goalkeeping exhibition, as the Rebel Army attacked for most of the game; but could only find the target through a supernatural penalty decision.

He looks mountainous in the goal with his 6’2’ frame and doesn’t turn 24 until August. His reflexes are excellent and there is no better shot stopper in the league that compares to him. What he lacks is communication as he is little too quiet on the pitch and needs to command his area given his size. Conor’s distribution is also quite good, and it is also one of the key elements of Liam Buckley’s philosophy. Giving that St Pats are in the bottom 3, it is highly unlikely O’Malley will receive recognition from the top; but given the work he puts in every week relgi, he’s certainly top of the class.

Galway need to build on a big 3 points.

It was Shane Keegan’s 9th win in 54 league games as a manager, and it is one that was crucial. The Tribesmen haven’t won since the 19th of May, and although they have more draws than any other side; their next win was important. They remain in the bottom 3, but just 1 point from safety as they are sandwiched in between Sligo Rovers and St Pats who have a game in hand over them. The manager knows they have a long way to go from being safe, but will be helped by the fact that it is so tight at the bottom, where 1 win can get you out of the drop zone.

Ronan Murray showed why he’s the leading talisman for Keegan’s side, as his excellent 30-yard volley set them on their way on Friday night. The striker is having an excellent first season in the league, and has bagged 7 goals so far. He will hope to add to that when they face bottom of the table – Drogheda next, but must wait an extra week as the fixture scheduled is moved around to accommodate the European games.

Derry bounce back.

After shipping 10 goals in their 2 Europa league games, it was hard to know what shape the Candystripes would turn up in when they faced Sligo at Maginn Park. Manager Kenny Shiels has an eye on a 3rd place finish, so they arrived in excellent shape and put the Bit O ’Red to the sword. With the European nightmare over, Shiels can now turn his attentions to the league as a win will move them up into that important 3rd spot.

Aaron McEneff is in tremendous form for the Candystripes and is key in Shiels men going forward. The midfielder is one of the best in his position outside of Cork and Dundalk’s squads, and has notched 7 goals so far. With Barry McNamee, Nicky Low and the returning Rory Patterson on offer, Derry should make that 3rd spot theirs come the end of the season.

Can Shels get into that top 3?

Shelbourne’s last defeat came on the 26th of May against Cabinteely, but since then Owen Heary’s side has put a run of 5 games and went unbeaten. It’s the 2nd time this season that they have put together an unbeaten run of games, but have yet to make it 6. In fact, they haven’t managed to go unbeaten more than 5 times since 2014, when they went 9 games unbeaten.

With UCD and Cobh dropping points over the last few weeks, a gap has opened to try and break into that top 3. Albeit there is 7 points between 3rd to 4th, Heary will have an eye on closing that this weekend. Shels host bottom of the table Wexford, while Cobh host UCD on Saturday in a massive game at the top. For Shels, they will need top scorer James English and Adam Evans on their game if they are to close that gap and try make a break of a top 3 finish.

Aaron Doherty

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