Charles Dickens never knew how any of his novels would end when he started them. Due to the high cost of buying a book at the time, his novels were serialised in magazines which had a much more affordable purchase price, even if you added up thetotal cost of the 20 issues you would need to buy in order to read the full Dicken’s novel. Publishing his books in this way meant Dickens was obliged to have each instalment end with the reader wanting to come back next week – that’s why the average Dickens has so many cliff-hangers.
This season’s SSE First Division certainly has parallels – we are 25 chapters in, with just two remaining [unless you are Limerick or Galway, who have three!] and despite all the twists and turns to date we still have no idea how anything is going to end. Any football season anywhere has similarities, in that you don’t know at the outset who will win or lose, although the Premier Division in England is the exception – you know that Man City will win the title and that at least two of the three promoted teams will be taking the express elevator back down to the Championship.
After the weekend’s results things are as unclear as ever. Shelbourne’s draw with Bray, coupled with Drogheda’s win in Athlone, means that Drogheda are now in pole position for the automatic promotion spot, even though Shelbourne are still top. Beat Shelsat home in the next game and then win in Bray on the last day and United Park will be hosting Premier Division football next year.
To complicate matters further, Longford are still in the hunt for automatic promotion too. If Shelbournelose their two remaining games and Longford win their two, and there is a net swing of five goals in favour of Longford, then they will finish above the Tolka Park outfit. They won’t want to finish level on points with Drogheda, given the Louth side’s vastly-superior goal difference, but two draws in their last two games [or worse] for Drogheda coupled with two wins for Longford would see Drogheda on 53 points at best and Longford on 54.
Things are no clearer in terms of who will finish in the three play-off positions. You could land at the season’s end with any three from five sides in there – Shelbourne, Longford, Drogheda, Cabinteely or Bray. These three-from-five could be joined by any of five sides who could yet finish in the relegation play-off spot in the Premier Division, although Sligo could only fall that low via a bizarre and unlikely sequence of results so realistically you will be picking from Cork, Waterford, UCD and Finn Harps.
Bray are in a very interesting position. They have been out of the play-off positions for some time but have kept their sights firmly set on them. Friday’s fine draw in Tolka Park, coupled with Cabinteely’s failure to win in Cobh on Saturday, means that Wanderers are four points behind the Stradbrookoutfit with two games remaining. Bray have a superior goal difference. A win at home to Athlone in their penultimate game will see Cabo over the line but Bray will be waiting to pounce on any slip-up and spoil the party.
Wanderers’ two remaining games are against automatic-promotion chasers Longford and Drogheda, so as well as potentially deciding Wanderers’ play-off fate they could well have a big say in where the title goes. Every side in the division [bar Galway] still has a part to play in the yet-to-be-written final chapters, given that Wexford, Athlone, Limerick and Cobh have all to play at least one side either chasing promotion or a play-off spot.
Galway may be out of this mix completely – they play Limerick, Athlone and Cobh in their three remaining First Division matches – but they are the only First Division side still flying the flag in the FAI Cup, but that is another chapter in another book entirely!