The RTE cameras roll into Tallaght on Friday night with Champions Shamrock Rovers hoping to avoid consecutive home defeats despite the fact they will be without a number of key players through suspension.
The Hoops incredibly had three players sent off during Friday’s 1-0 defeat to Cork City with the home side leaving it late to make the most of their major numerical advantage. Richie Towell, Johnny Kenny and Sean Hoare all saw red at Turners Cross all will be unavailable for Friday’s game against Dundalk while Neil Farrugia will also sit out the game having reached the yellow cards threshold for suspension.
As a result, you’d think there could be no better time to travel to the usually fortress-like Tallaght Stadium but even with Stephen Bradley’s options being severely depleted it’s difficult to get too excited about Dundalk’s chances for a number of reasons.
Firstly, Dundalk come into the game on a three match winless streak with the Lilywhites latest disappointment coming in a 2-1 defeat against a St.Pat’s team who were reduced to ten men early in the second half at Richmond Park. That was not the first time this season that Stephen O’Donnell’s charges have really struggled when playing with a numerical advantage while the manner of the two goals they conceded were extremely disappointing.
Dundalk conceded just 30 goals in the entirety of the 2022 Premier Division season with St.Pat’s two goals on Friday taking the Louth mens goals against column for this term to 25. O’Donnell’s charges are also struggling for creativity in front of goal with Dundalk the joint lowest top scorers in the top-half of the table.
Off the pitch, all does not seem rosy in the Oriel Park garden either with constant murmurings in regards to the clubs current owners, some worrying financial reports and a general sense of uneasiness around the club. Given his stature as a club legend and the job he out together in the dugout last season, Stephen O’Donnell seemed to hold an almost untouchable status around the town of Dundalk but support for the former captain appears to be slipping within some quarters of the fanbase.
Supporters of O’Donnell will argue he has been left short changed by an apparent lack of fire power in the recruitment department while he has also seen his squad decimated by injuries this season.
Going back to that earlier line that it may be a good time to play Shamrock Rovers, there was a similar feeling before Dundalk’s most recent clash with the Champions back in March as Stephen Bradley’s side came to Oriel Park winless after the first six games of the new campaign. However, Shamrock Rovers soon showed they were still top dogs by putting four past the home side, a result that would ignite an unbeaten run of eight wins and two draws before the recent surprise losses to Drogheda United and Cork City.
Dundalk’s last visit to Tallaght was also a humbling experience as Rovers tore a wide open Dundalk defence to pieces in a 3-0 victory. Rovers have now won three of the last four H2H’s against a team who dominated Irish football for much of the last decade. That Dundalk era of dominance has very much come and gone with the Lilywhites now a side who would be delighted to scrape a top four finish and fall into the European places.
Hunting a fourth consecutive league title, something even the great Stephen Kenny didn’t achieve with Dundalk, arguments will soon begin over where this Shamrock Rovers team sits among the all-time greats but if they wish to truly be compared to the likes of Kenny’s 2016 Dundalk team they need to win the double and have a truly memorable European campaign.
There’s no doubt with the players Stephen Bradley can choose from that this Rovers team can achieve such feats, they are a cut above everyone else in the league right now and even with their suspension issues on Friday, I expect them to brush an average Dundalk team aside.
PREDICTION: Shamrock Rovers (2/5)
DOUBLE THE ODDS FIRST GOALSCORER
With Dundalk leaking like a sieve at the back it has to be the home side we look towards for a first goalscorer bet here. With Johnny Kenny suspended, there will be slightly more pressure on Rory Gaffney to lead the Rovers attack but given he’s scored in the last two meetings with Dundalk he’ll be more than happy to carry that burden. Gaffney recommended @ 9/2.