With the Republic of Ireland’s crucial World Cup qualifiers taking centre stage this weekend, it may be easy to forget that there are five games taking place in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division on Saturday. Niall Newberry predicts the outcomes of a round of fixtures that could see Cork City crowned champions without even kicking a ball.
Bray Wanderers v Galway United (3pm)
Limerick’s elimination from the FAI Cup last week means that Bray Wanderers, perhaps astonishingly given their turbulent season off the pitch, still have a very realistic chance of getting into Europe for just the third time in the club’s history. They are now just four points behind fourth-placed Derry City, who they surprisingly thumped 5-0 at Maginn Park in their last league outing. What a turn up for the books it would be should The Seagulls, despite all this controversy surrounding them, manage to bring European football to the Carlisle Grounds for the first time since the 1999/2000 season.
Galway United’s luck appears to be changing and they come into this Saturday afternoon clash on the back of a crucial 3-1 win over fellow strugglers Sligo Rovers last time out. In fact, Galway have lost just one league match (winning three) from five since Shane Keegan’s outburst on national television following their defeat to Shamrock Rovers in August. He was at the time criticised for this but it has perhaps instilled some much-needed fighting spirit into his players – it certainly seems to have worked.
Odds: Bray Wanderers 29/20; Draw 5/2; Galway United 17/10
Drogheda United v Shamrock Rovers (3pm)
A second relegation in three years was finally confirmed last Friday for dismal Drogheda United, who haven’t picked up a league win since April in a record that has spanned a staggering 18 matches. Drogheda haven’t even as much as recorded a draw since July though Pete Mahon somewhat surprisingly appears to be staying at United Park. It’s been quite sad to see Mahon, one of the League of Ireland’s elder statesmen, suffer embarrassment week after week with this current Drogheda team.
From the oldest manager in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division to the youngest – Stephen Bradley, who’s Shamrock Rovers team should go one step closer to securing European football on Saturday afternoon with a win over Drogheda. However, with Tuesday’s FAI Cup semi-final replay in mind, it will be interesting to see how many, if any, changes Bradley makes to his starting eleven.
Odds: Drogheda United 11/1; Draw 9/2; Shamrock Rovers 1/4
Finn Harps v Dundalk (5pm)
Ollie Horgan has this week hit out at RTÉ for their decision to televise this fixture, insisting it will have a negative effect on gate receipts at Finn Park. Two consecutive losses mean Finn Harps simply have to get something from Dundalk if they are to have any chance of climbing out of the bottom three this weekend, a feat they haven’t achieved since beating The Lilywhites in the First Division ten years ago.
This match is all but academic for Dundalk who know a win merely postpones Cork City’s inevitable title-winning party for another week at least. Stephen Kenny’s focus will solely be on Tuesday night’s FAI Cup replay with Shamrock Rovers so don’t be surprised if you happen to encounter celebrations in Cork come Saturday night as Dundalk could well ring the changes for their trip up to Ballybofey.
Odds: Finn Harps 11/2; Draw 7/2; Dundalk 4/9
St Patrick’s Athletic v Limerick (5pm)
Arguably the game of the weekend takes place at Richmond Park as St Patrick’s Athletic welcome Limerick in what is yet another relegation six-pointer. St Pats recent win over Shamrock Rovers edged them closer to safety as Liam Buckley’s side bid to avoid what would be a first relegation in the club’s history. Buckley’s mid-season signings have been a revelation and just one more win could be enough.
Limerick were unlucky to be knocked out of the FAI Cup last week at hands of Cork City but Neil McDonald would have seen enough on that particular night to be confident of his side consolidating their Premier Division status with just four matches remaining. They’re currently four points above the drop zone so they’ll be hoping to avoid defeat at Richmond Park to keep the bottom three at bay.
Odds: St Patrick’s Athletic 21/20; Draw 13/5; Limerick 5/2
Sligo Rovers v Bohemians (7:45pm)
Defeat to Galway United last time out saw Ger Lyttle’s team slip back into the bottom three coming into what will be their first home match in 53 days. It would be a great shame to see a club of Sligo Rovers’ stature drop into the First Division but poor decision making in the background has seen the club go into free fall since sacking Ian Baraclough in 2014 – Sligo simply need three points on Saturday.
Two successive wins for Bohemians means they are now looking at Derry City in fourth position rather than over their shoulders at the bottom three. It’s testament to the phenomenal job Keith Long has done on a shoestring budget at Dalymount Park over the past number of seasons.
Odds: Sligo Rovers 23/20; Draw 9/4; Bohemians 5/2
In this week’s edition of the Mixer Football Podcast we discuss the timing of Martin O’Neill’s new contract, look at a massive weekend for the Ireland national side as well as the usual analysis of the latest League of Ireland action.