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League of Ireland’s half way point report

 

We’ve reached the half-way mark in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division, with most teams completing their eighteenth match over the weekend. The clubs playing on Friday night served up a feast of goals to mark the occasion – an incredible 22 were scored in that night’s four games. As if intimidated by the goals raining in on Friday, the battle of the Rovers on Saturday night served up the only scoreless game of the weekend. Soccer Republic will be entertaining on Monday night, as would any of the games from Friday if they’d been screened live – unfortunately RTE gave themselves a night off from broadcasting domestic top-flight football.

Are things as you expected at the turn? I’m not surprised to see Dundalk and Cork vying for top spot – most people would have called that – but I am surprised, and pleasantly so, to see Waterford and St Patrick’s Athletic occupying the next two places. Waterford have only just come up from the First Division, while Pats are reaping the reward for showing faith with Liam Buckley.

With 30 points Pats are the only Dublin side in the top half of the table. Shamrock Rovers are languishing in sixth, unable even to fall back on being the leading Dublin club or occupying the European places as an answer to criticism. 23 points from 18 games is a very disappointing return for the Hoops at this stage of the season.

Rovers seem no nearer to knocking Dundalk and Cork off their perch, much to the dismay of their fans. This season was one in which they really had to deliver but even at this stage that chance is long gone. Bohemians have under-achieved in comparison to expectation also; 19 points from 18 games is little more than survival fare and that’s exactly where they find themselves, treading water just above the relegation play-off spot.

The bottom of the table is as most would have predicted. Bray, off the back of last season’s off-field problems, have struggled so far but things have improved since Graham Kelly took over as interim boss and automatic relegation isn’t a foregone conclusion just yet. The fact that they’ve scored the least and let in the most shows the table is as an accurate a reflection of their poor form as it is of Dundalk’s good form – they have let in the least and scored the most.

As things stand Sligo and Limerick are trading places in the relegation play-off spot although Limerick’s fine 6-3 win away at Waterford at the weekend turned the form book on its head somewhat.

There has been lots of comment about how lopsided the fixture schedule is. We are barely three months into the season and yet half the matches have been played; the other half will be played over a much more generous and leisurely five month period.

It does seem strange that summer soccer doesn’t mean we maximise the actual summer to play a bigger chunk of the games – they are loaded onto the spring and autumn months, when cross-channel action is on in competition. OK, there is a World Cup on this summer, and every summer has the GAA on as competition, but in general the match roster should be more evenly spread.

As for the First Division, they haven’t quite reached the half-way mark yet but already UCD are pulling clear in the automatic promotion spot. The battle for the three play-off spots has been fascinating so far, with any three from Drogheda, Shelbourne, Galway, Finn Harps and Longford in with a shout. It’s certainly making for an entertaining league, although Athlone are a sorry sight at the foot of the table with only a single point from 12 games and a minus 40 goal difference. Playing in front of crowds barely into treble figures isn’t good for them or the league, but what can be done?

It is only half way. There is plenty of time for things to change. Teams can get on a run, both of good and poor results. The FAI Cup has still to commence. Still all to play for.

Brian Quigley

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