Wednesday, May 21, 2008

33% Off

Any wouldbe scribe would be a foolish wouldbe scribe were he/she not to avail of the opportunity presented when a title race reaches a significant point in the race. not only is this now the case in the Premier Division, but likewise in it's poor relative, the First Division.

Much like our ailing health system - epitomised by the fine figure of health that presides over the labyrinthine service - the second tier of our domestic league has established a two-tier society. 6 points separate the top four sides - no surprise to see Shelbourne, Dundalk, Waterford United and the Sporting Fingal franchise occupy the private beds. After yet another turbo-boosted opening to a First Division title assault, Dundalk have just experienced the first lag of their campaign. Their three game winless run has - unfortunately for Lilywhites supporters - coincided with a golden run of wins for rivals Shelbourne. Dermot Keely strengthened his squad considerably during the winter and they have begun to gel nicely now. Anto Flood's 12 goal haul has been bolstered by David Freeman's six. Flood's flood of goals will surely be attracting the attention of barren Premier Division clubs; Shels are not exactly in a position to turn down a good offer.

Contrast that rich artery of striking form with John Gill's side - midfielders David Cassidy & Jamie Duffy have accumulated nine goals between them, while Dundalk have failed to find the net during their last two outings - Robbie Martin's return to fitness may be a help, but it's clear that the Orielmen need their strikers to come up with the goods. Waterford are still in the hunt but will need to improve their away points haul if they are to steer themselves into top spot. Alas, Gareth Cronin's efforts may yet be undone by the club's unravelling financial problems.

Liam Buckley's Wild Geese are another side settling into some form and remain unbeaten against the three sides above them. Those three draws will need to be converted into wins during the remaining two-thirds of the season if they are to figure in the final shake-up for promotion. The Morton Stadium men can only improve as they play together, so there remains some room for optimism for the North Dublin outfit.

Fifth placed Longford Town trail the newcomers by a further seven points. Their total of 14 points separates last season's FAI Cup runners-up from bottom dwellers Athlone Town. The midtable area seems to be floored with the kind of material used for bungee jumping. Sides string two, three, maybe even four good results together before slipping back into mediocrity.

No one has been cast adrift yet, and Athlone are showing signs of life following an injury-hit opening third. Wexford Youths are improving now that they have a full season under their braces - Monaghan United and Kildare Town flatter to deceive, then don't deceive at all. They shall continue to offer only rare threats to the title chaser. Things are still in flux down in limerick - next season's name change may provide the fanfare for significant improvement - Mike Kerley was given little time to attract the kind of talent he covets to Jackman Park.

And the Premier shall be last.... pre-season predictions lay scattered and torn following the opening eleven series of games. There is still time for errant disappointers to turn the tide, but it will be a tall order for the likes of Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and Drogheda United to establish a foothold in the title chase now.

As with Dundalk, the sight of St. Pats screeching away from the starting line to open up a sizeable gap is a not unfamiliar one. As with Dundalk, the sight of that run ending in a single vehicle collision is a not unfamiliar one. That said, the Saints have weathered the absence of an entire backline well. This signifies a resilience that wasn't so apparent in 2007. Joseph Ndo's campaign of non-intervention has been forgotten thanks to the powerful form of Keith Fahey. Ryan Guy continues to improve - Michael Keane might be deemed surplus to requirements. A topscorers table surprisingly replete with midfielders, yet devoid of a runaway hotshot is totemic of where the Saints might suffer further down the line. There is little pressure on Messrs. Quigley and O'Neill - Glen Fitzpatrick's talents don't extend to overdosing on goals.

Pat Fenlon has brought a solid look to Bohs in a very short space of time. He has nurtured Neale Fenn back into the kind of form which tormented and confused centre-halves during his best years at Cork City. Fenn's return to the centre stage is a welcome one for any follower of the league. Sean Connor had established a reluctance to concede goals - it was clear all that the problems lay up front for the Big Club. While I am far from being Glenn Crowe's biggest fan - he too has been temporarily revitalised by Nutsy's presence. Jason Byrne sat on the bench against Cork City when he might have been sitting on the bench at Wembley Stadium. We haven't seen a lot of him - although his touch to set up Rossiter's matchwinner against Cork was excellent. We are unlikely to witness floods of goals at Dalymount Park - Nutsy's nerve-wracking 'one will do' strategy appears to prevail.

Derry City currently repose in third spot - this was unexpected. With rumours circulating regarding Pat McCourt's future it seems the Candystripes may soon be without their most gifted player. City are the chief beneficiaries of the unexpected form of Cork City and to a lesser degree Drogheda United. The Drogs are experiencing the difficulties of retention. The recent draw with Pats was a blow to their plans - the defeat at Bray the previous week bore mitigating circumstances. With Guy Bates, Fabio and Shane Barrett still to reach top gear, surely things can only improve by the Boyne.

Less optimism pervades around Turner's Cross. Alan Matthews maiden season has been beset with disappointment thus far. His side have looked defensively unsound; this has undone the quick settling in of Dave Mooney up front. There seems to be a lack of cohesion and direction at times when the Leesiders take to the field. Dan Murray is not his usual self; his sloppy clearance followed by sloppy marking, allowed Jason Byrne the freedom of Phibsboro last Sunday; freedom that Byrne used to set up the winning strike. Pat Sullivan and Cillian Lordan are decent centre-halves at best; that best is not good enough for a title challenge. Matthews may need more time to come to grips with the quality at his disposal - that will be too long in terms of their title challenge for the newly professional manager.

The Rovers would both have been anticipating a season of top half residency; maybe a Cup final to keep the fans happy. Paul Cook continues to win admirers for his unfussy work at the Showgrounds. He has introduced some exotica to the Northwest outpost in the form of Mauro Almeida and Romauld Boco. Both have been instant hits and the Bit O'Red possess greater strength in depth this term. Holding on to Faz is the next challenge for Cook. Pat Scully made sweeping changes at Tolka Park - they have proven to be unwise. Gone is the youthful energy that wore teams down in 2007; gone is the unquestioning work ethic, as battleworn journeymen began to populate the vacancies. The lure of 2009 and a return to Tallaght will keep the fans happy for a while.

Bray Wanderers had a recent rush of blood which surprised many - Sligo brought them back to reality last time out. Eddie Gormley has finally managed to instil some self-belief into some talented players, but midtable safety looks like their highest hope this term. A similar outcome would suit UCD - worryingly for Pete Mahon that eternally 'difficult to win in' venue has become equally difficult for his side to win in. 8 points and one win is a poor return for the Students who need to convert ones into threes before long.

Jeff Kenna's revolution at Galway United means that bottom spot is again up for grabs - United again are struggling to win at home - in the short term any win will do for the Westerners. The new boss has steadied the ship, Cobh and Finn Harps - along with UCD- are hovering into their crosshairs. It's difficult to see anything other than a season of struggle for the division's newcomers. A long list of injuries undermined Harp's hopes of a good start - they are now working from a position of adversity and that brings added pressures. Both sides have woeful away records coupled with no more than adequate home hauls. Cobh are in danger of believing the weekly hard luck stories.

What's it all about? Points. What do points mean?

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