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

After last weeks FAI Cup’s exploits, we returned to league action this weekend and it didn’t disappoint. Only 2 sides failed to score across 8 games, while 26 goals where scored overall, including a stunning hat trick from Bohemians Keith Ward. Bohs scored 4 times against hapless Drogheda United as Pete Mahon side stay rooted to the bottom of the table.

The win for Bohs kept them in 6th and 7 points clear of the drop with 5 games to play. Limerick got a valuable point away to Bray on Friday night, that kept them just 2 points above the bottom 3. Limerick fans will be thankful to Brendan Clarke, who atoned for his earlier mistakes against Finn Harps last time out; when he saved Gary McCabe’s penalty to earn them a 1-1 draw.

There were also 2 massive results in the bottom 3 as both Galway United and Sligo Rovers both picked up valuable wins in their bid to beat the drop. The Tribesmen with an impressive win over Derry at home, while the Bit O’ Red scored with the last kick of the game against relegation candidates – Finn Harps.

Dundalk picked up the first piece of silverware this season as they eased past Shamrock Rovers in the EA Sports Cup Final. Stephen Kenny’s men still showing the hunger and desire that brought them the last 3 league titles. The loss for Shamrock Rovers ends their run of 7 straight wins in all competitions as their opponents put a marker of where the Hoops need to aim.

The first division finally crowned it’s champion as Waterford beat Wexford and Cobh Ramblers surprisingly lost at home to Cabinteely, which handed the Blues the title. Despite having the strongest squad in the division, Waterford still had to do the business on the pitch, and they can now look forward to a return to the premier division in 2018.

Cabinteely’s win over Cobh just shows how far they have come under Pat Devlin this season. They have surpassed all their wins and points of previous seasons, and sit in 5th on the same points as Longford in 4th. Shelbourne stuck 4 goals past Athlone Town at Tolka Park to stay in 6th, while Athlone are still waiting for a 1st league win since the appointment of Roddy Collins. Longford Town and UCD played out a 1-1 draw.

So, what have we learned this week?

The battle for the drop heats up.

With Cork City’s dominance at the top end of the table, the relegation battle has been a revelation this season. 3 sides will eventually make their way out of the premier division and into the abyss of the first division; but who will join Drogheda United – is anybody’s guess. The Boynesiders have failed to win in the league since April 21st, a run of 17 games could see themselves return to the first division at the 1st time of asking this weekend.

Galway United’s win over Derry City last week was a massive 3 points, as they cut the gap to just 1 point but stay in 11th place. At the moment, just 3 points separate Limerick in 7th, and Galway in 11th; so any slip ups will certainly be punished. Shane Keegan’s men have 5 games left, 3 of which are at home and 2 of which are against relegation rivals Sligo and St Pats. They do have to travel to Bray and Limerick before finishing off the season at home to Dundalk, so they are certainly in control of their own faith with them games.

Finn Harps dropped into the bottom 3 after losing to a last minute goal to Sligo on Friday night. Even after the magical Pat McCourt equalised after beating the whole Sligo team, Harps just couldn’t hold out. Ollie Horgan’s men have more wins than anybody in the bottom 5, but its their inability to see out games that has cost them so far. They have a much tougher run in with just 2 home games left against Dundalk and Drogheda, which are in between travels to Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and Bohemians. The pressure is well and truly mounting on Ballybofey.

Sitting in 9th are St Pats who have a slight advantage over the rest with a game in hand. The weekend couldn’t have went any worse for the Saints as they seen 2 of their rivals claim wins which put the pressure on Liam Buckley’s men. They do however have 3 home games left against Shamrock Rovers, Limerick and Cork City. They must however travel to Bohemians, Galway and then Derry City on the last day of the season. Out of their remaining 6 games, St Pats must play 3 of the top 4 sides as they look to avoid relegation for the 1st time.

Sligo Rovers have gotten back to back league wins for the 1st time since October last year, which has helped them jump up into 8th position. The Bit o’ Red have less defeats than anyone in the bottom 5, but its drawing game that has been their achilles heel. Of their 28 matches they’ve played, they have drawn a massive 15 times with just 9 defeats and manager Gerard Lyttle cannot have anymore slip ups. Sligo have a run in with Bohs and Derry to come to the Showground’s, and the 2012 champions must travel to Galway, then onto Shamrock rovers; before finishing off away to Drogheda United. So if you’re a Sligo Rovers fan, you have got to be very optimistic.

Limerick sits in 7th and are far from safe as they sit just the 2 points clear from an immediate return to the 1st division. They have picked up just 1 win in their last 8 league games and are right in the relegation mix. Neill McDonald’s side however, are well in control of their own destiny as they have 3 home games against Cork, Drogheda and Galway. In between that, they have trips to St Pats and Shamrock Rovers on the last day of the season. They also have the welcome distraction of the FAI cup semi final against Cork coming up in their biggest game of the season. Limerick fans will see they face 3 of the teams around them in their final 5 games, and will expect their side to stay in the premier division next year.

Waterford are back.

The RSC will host premier division games next season for the first time since 2007. Waterford were tipped from the outset to be champions and they justified that by claiming the title with just 2 games to spare. Alan Reynolds and Pat Fenlon recruited really well and even more so with having key player Mark O’Sullivan who has 12 goals to date.

The former Cork City forward has settled well and scored 2 on Friday night, to be the outright top scorer for his club. The first priority for the management team will be to keep the key players at the club for next season. Their squad is certainly premier division ready with the likes of O’Sullivan, David McDaid, Kenny Browne and Paul Keegan. With the budget that’s expected at Waterford next season, they just might cause some upset in 2018.

Aaron Doherty

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