The League of Ireland Premier Division season reaches its conclusion on Friday night with the race for Europe the only contest still alive. Shamrock Rovers sealed a historic fourth consecutive league title last week by defeating St.Patrick’s Athletic while Cork City can no longer catch Sligo in the battle to avoid the relegation/promotion play-off final.
So it’s now all eyes on Shelbourne, Dundalk, and Bohemians in the fight for fourth on the final weekend. A reminder, fourth will only be enough for Shelbourne or Dundalk to qualify for Europe if St.Patrick’s Athletic win the FAI Cup final against Bohemians who will take the extra European place if they win the cup or finish fourth.
SHAMROCK ROVERS v SLIGO ROVERS – RTE 2, 7.45
We’ll get to those feature games shortly but starting with the champions Shamrock Rovers, who were left angered by the lack of a “guard of honour” by Cork City on Monday, the Hoops should be able to round off their season in style as they host a Sligo Rovers team who just want the misery of this campaign to end.
The Bit O’Red can finish no higher than eighth after losing more than half of their league matches and with Stephen Bradley giving some of his fringe players and younger talents a run out in Cork on Monday, expect the big guns to be out in force as the Tallaght men get ready to lift the trophy in front of a packed house. This could be a long night at the office for the men from the West.
BEST BET: Shamrock Rovers -2 (21/10)
DERRY CITY v ST.PATRICK’S ATHLETIC
While both clubs will be glad that the pressure is off going into this final game in terms of European qualification, both groups should also hold plenty of “what if” thoughts in their minds as both Derry City (2nd) and St.Pat’s (3rd) threatened to dethrone a below-par Shamrock Rovers this season only for their respective challenges to fizzle out very tamely.
While there isn’t a whole pile riding on this game, it’s probably more important for the hosts than St.Pat’s, who will have a firm eye on the FAI Cup final, as the optics of finishing second to Shamrock Rovers will be important ahead of next year for a Derry City who continue to invest heavily on and off the field.
Derry’s lack of efficiency in front of goal is what cost them this season and if you exclude their 6-0 win against already relegated UCD, the Candystripes have scored just two goals in their last five non-UCD fixtures.
St.Pat’s have been scrappy in recent months but generally they’ve been getting results and that is never a bad trait. However, with Jon Daly unlikely to take too many risks ahead of the cup final, this should be a good opportunity for Derry to clinch consecutive second-place finishes.
BEST BET: Derry City to win to nil (13/8)
DROGHEDA UNITED v SHELBOURNE
Drogheda United have had a remarkable season and could still have a large say in who finishes in the top four as Kevin Doherty’s men welcome Damien Duff’s Shelbourne to Weavers Park.
Duff and Doherty are both in the running for Manager Of The Year recognition with Doherty comfortably keeping part-time Drogs in the Premier Division while Irish legend Duff has Shels in the top-four driving seat going into this concluding game of the campaign.
A win will guarantee Shelbourne a top-four finish while should they draw then Dundalk would need to beat UCD by at least four goals while Bohemians would need to put together a cricket score at home to Cork City to leapfrog them both.
Weavers Park has proven to be one of the most difficult venues in the league for the top sides to visit and even with injuries mounting up, Drogheda were still able to go away to Sligo Rovers last week and keep a clean sheet.
The three H2H’s this season have been incredibly tight affairs with Shelbourne winning 3-2 in the most recent clash in June while the other two games ended 1-1 and 0-0.
The Reds have Jack Moylan to thank for their advantageous position going into this game after the Lincoln-bound attacker bagged a hat-trick in a dramatic 3-2 win against UCD last week. Shels received a couple of soft-looking penalties in the game so they easily could have slipped up against the Students.
Drogheda United will be keen to play the role of party-poopers and there is a little bit of history between the two managers so the Louthmen will be well up for this despite the fact they’ve no prize to play for as such.
BEST BET: DRAW (12/5)
UCD v DUNDALK
Should Shelbourne slip up in Drogheda it will present the opportunity for the other Louth club to capatilise with a win against a UCD team that has caused Dundalk some issues in recent seasons. A dramatic 3-2 loss here last season almost cost Dundalk European football while a 1-1 draw at home to the Students on the opening day could yet cost Dundalk this season.
The Lilywhites push for Europe is not being aided by off-field drama and reports of big-name departures in the off-season with the club’s all-time leading goalscorer Pat Hoban reportedly informed he is free to find a new club for next year.
UCD have long known their fate but despite relegation already being confirmed, the College have put in some really gutsy performances in recent weeks, most notably holding Shamrock Rovers to a scoreless draw here.
Sadly, keeping clean sheets has been a real rarity this season with UCD shipping 13 goals in the four games that followed the shock Shamrock Rovers result.
With Dundalk knowing they may need to rack up a big scoreline, expect Stephen O’Donnell to throw the kitchen sink at matters here.
BEST BET: Dundalk -2 (9/5)
BOHEMIANS v CORK CITY
Bohs are very much the outsiders of three going into the final day with the Gypsies needed both Shelbourne and Dundalk to drop points and realistically, they’ll need Shelbourne to lose due to their superior goal difference.
However, Bohs fate is very much still in their own hands with the FAI Cup final to come and as a result, Declan Devine’s men may already be looking ahead to the Aviva Stadium showpiece in a couple of Sunday’s time.
Cork City’s focus will certainly be elsewhere with the Rebels now condemned to playing either Waterford FC or Cobh Ramblers in the relegation/promotion final. Personally, I’ve seen enough from Cork City in recent weeks to suggest they will stay up, albeit by the skin of their teeth.
However, with the Dalymount faithful turning out to boost the Bohs players ahead of the cup final, this could be a bruising trip to the capital for Cork City.
BEST BET: Bohemians (2/5)