This weekend sees the start of the third and final series and it's not an exaggeration to suggest it's the biggest weekend of the season so far. Here's what we're looking out for.
1) Can leaders St Pats keep up the pace?
Pats have been top of the league for the guts of 2 months. While some of that time was by virtue of having played more games, they're now 3 clear of Dundalk with a game in hand. That game is away to 3rd place Derry who lie 4 points behind so Pats know they can't afford to feel comfortable with their lead. Every team has to play each other at least once and tonight Pats host Drogheda. Last time they played Pats needed a controversial injury time penalty winner but since then Drogheda have almost collapsed. 2nd last year, they're no 4 points off bottom and in the worst form of any of the bottom 5. Anything other than a win for Pats, who added Daryl Kavanagh to the squad yesterday, will be seen as a major shock.
2) Will Dundalk get respect?
Dundalk are 2nd and won 5 of their last 6 home games. Shamrock Rovers have won 2 of their 11 away games, scoring only 7 goals. Guess which side some bookmakers have even money to win tonight? On RTE's MNS programme during the week, they discussed likely league winners. Dundalk weren't mentioned while Stuart Byrne repeated his Shamrock Rovers prediction. Can Dundalk beat Rovers tonight and will they earn some sort of respect for the season they're having? Rovers will be without the creative spark of suspended Ronan Finn so a seventh away scoreless draw is a strong possibility. That result would make fans of Pats, Sligo and Derry happy anyway.
3) Can Derry finally get the better of Sligo?
Derry City came into the league season full of confidence after a string finish last year and lost the opening game at home to Sligo. They finished the first series of games on top of the league, and lost heavily to Sligo. Tonight the battle of 3rd and 4th in the table could lead to a hammer blow against the loser's title challenge. Derry had a gutsy win in Limerick last week to stop a run of 2 defeats. Sligo have only once in their last 6 away games and only 3 times in the last 13 total games. Both sides are clearly packed with talent and they'll both be hoping a win tonight can be the catalyst for a great finish to the season.
4) Can Bohs get off the bottom?
Bohs are currently 12th and bottom. If then win tonight they'll be 9th (even if only for a day or two). While things may be tight at the top, they are ridiculous at the bottom with Shels, UCD and Bray on 19 points and Bohs only a point behind them. Even Drogheda on 22 and Cork on 24 aren't completely safe. It isn't going to be easy for Bohs against UCD. They haven't won at home since April and Robert Lopes's late equaliser against Drogheda earned their first point in 6 home games. Owen Heary was confirmed as temporary boss after Bohs search for a permanent solution came up dry. He'll face a UCD side that suffered a huge setback of their own last week. Losing to Shelbourne with 9 men was surely a disappointment after earning 5 points in the previous 3 games. The loser of this game is in huge trouble.
5) Can Shels keep their remarkable run going?
6 weeks ago, Shels were 6 points adrift at the bottom of the table. Since then John McDonnell has done an outstanding job and they head to Bray on Sunday on the back of a 3 game winning streak! Bray are going in the opposite direction and haven't won in 6 games. Bray have played well in some of these games and can consider themselves unlucky not to have got a result in Dundalk last week with the excellent Kieran Marty Waters hitting the woodwork twice. Bray have beaten Shels twice this season and a third could put an end to Shels momentum. Although all 4 sides at the bottom will have ten games left after Sunday, there's no doubting how huge this weekend is.
Whatever happens, enjoy the games!