Less games than usual, but far more drama on the schedule too. Here's what we're looking out for.
1) Can St Pats move to within one win of the title?
Both Sligo and Dundalk dropped points over last weekend's double headers and Pats know a win tonight in Belfield will put them 6 points clear of Dundalk with only 3 games to play. With their superior goal difference to Dundalk (currently 15 goals), any win in the last 3 would be enough for the Inchicore men to clinch their first title in over a decade. Despite Stephen Kenny's claims earlier this week that UCD will roll over, no one involved with Pats will be taking the challenge too lightly. The last time Pats beat UCD three times in one league season was 1995/96. Coincidentally, Pats went on to win the league that year...
2) Which of the cup specialist Rovers will reach the FAI Cup final?
Before the last round we highlighted that Sligo Rovers have now reached the semi finals in 11 of the last 12 domestic cup competitions they've entered. A win at home on Sunday would see them reach the FAI Cup final for the 4th time in 5 years. By any markers that cup form is exceptional. This year has seen Shamrock Rovers excel in the cups as their league form stuttered. They've already bagged the Setanta Sports Cup and the EA Sports Cup and they're also in the final of the (very) minor Leinster Senior Cup. Long renowned as the Cup specialists, it's now 26 years since they last won the FAI Cup (a run only beaten by Pats' heroic efforts to break their fans hearts since 1961). The pair have met twice in the last four years in the FAI Cup with Sligo victories both times. The won the 2010 FAI Cup final by beating the Dubliners in a penalty shoot out.
3) Who'll come out on top in the Louth Derby semi final?
Drogheda United are looking to reach their third cup final this season. Beaten by Shamrock Rovers in both the Setanta Sports Cup and the EA Sports Cup, Mick Cooke's men will be hoping for better luck in the FAI Cup against their county rivals Dundalk. Dundalk have had a fine season themselves and clinched European qualification on Monday night by trouncing Derry City. it looks like they'll fall just short in the league title race but should be strong favourites to reach the Cup final and once there have match winners in Towell and Hoban that may bring silverware back to Oriel.
4) Can Shels make a huge step towards safety in Derry?
Shelbourne travel to Derry City having pulled themselves off the bottom of the league (on goal difference) last weekend. They still haven't won in 6 games but they'll face a Derry side who have one win at home since June. Derry's collapse may be the most under-reported phenomenon of the season. They earned 26 points in the first 11 games to lead the league at the end of the first series. Since then they've won only 22 points in 18 games. They've lost 5 of the last 7 in the league and have drifted from title challengers to 5th place in the league. If Derry can finish strong, a 4th place finish will be enough for Europe if Sligo or Dundalk win the Cup.
5) Will Mervue United sneak into the play offs and further complicate the Galway issue?
All indications are that a new/re-vamped Galway FC team will apply for election to the LOI for next season. The team would be an amalgam of Mervue United, Salthill Devon, the remnants of Galway United and the Galway FA. Its complicated and messy and completely up the air. How much further will it be complicated if Mervue get promoted? With 2 games left in the first division, only a point separates Longford, Waterford and Mervue and the Galway side look to have the easiest run in of the three. It's still a long shot (the winners of the 1st play off play the team who finishes 11th in the premier) but it would certainly cause a few ripples in league HQ.
The FAI Cup semi finals are live on RTE 2 from 1.30pm on Sunday.
Whatever happens, enjoy the games!