Week Two of the Airtricity League season kicks off tonight with 5 games in the Premier Division and 3 in the First. Here's our thoughts;
The 5 Biggest Storylines
1) The first big Dublin Derby of the season as Rovers host Pats
With respect to Bohs and UCD from last week, the first big Dublin derby of the season is tonight as Shamrock Rovers host St Patrick’s Athletic (live on RTE 2 with a 7.35 kick off). Last season Rovers started the league off with 4 wins and a draw before heading to Inchicore to play Pats. Rovers were awful that night, none worse than (then) recent high-profile signing Killian Brennan, and Pats romped to a 5-1 win. Rovers eventually finished 4th and in the off-season set about returning to the top of the league. They brought in Pats assistant manager Trevor Croly as new (first time) manager and he brought 3 players with him to Tallaght (Barry Murphy, James Chambers and Sean O’Connor).
O’Connor hasn’t been shy about voicing his opinion about Pats since the move and is sure of a fiery reception from the away section tonight. Brennan made the move in the opposite direction, in the hope of getting back to standards he set at Pat Fenlon’s Bohs side. He’s started well so far winning MOTM in 2 of the 3 games he’s started. Pats’ record in Tallaght is pretty poor with only one win there compared to 5 league defeats. Even last year with Rovers struggling, they were the better team and it took this 90th minute goal by Pat Flynn to rescue a point and produce the only league draw between the sides in Tallaght.
2) Can Cork get their first win against Bohs?
Cork City had to wait until the 7th game of last season to notch their first win as pressure mounted on manager Tommy Dunne. After a solid scoreless draw in Limerick last week, Cork fans will settle for nothing less than a win tonight against Bohemians. Bohs started last week with a hard-fought win over ten-man UCD but tonight should see a stiffer test of Aaron Callaghan's mix of elder statesmen and youngsters. Cork have scored 10 goals in their 4 Setanta Sports Cup games and will be hoping that bodes well for the league season.
3) Will Dundalk heap pressure on Shelbourne manager Alan Mathews?
Mathew's tactics aren't every popular with the Shels faithful. We gave the stat in our pre-season preview that Shels had twice as many red cards as any other League of Ireland club last season. We also mentioned three new signings; Paul Crowley, Pat Flynn and Robbie Bayly. Last week saw Flynn miss the game for being sent off in pre-season and Bayly booked for talking back to the referee. Crowley was sent off for this lunge.
Dundalk, on the other hand, will be happy with their point at home to Shamrock Rovers, and even happier with the performance. Having beaten Shels during the week in the League Cup, Stephen Kenny will be hoping to repeat tonight. If he does, the home crowd's reaction to Mathews ahead of games against Pats and Rovers next week should be interesting.
4) How will Limerick do away from the spotlight?
Last week saw Limerick return to the premier division after 19 years and host the first ever LOI game in Thomond Park. With live TV coverage, there was certainly a sense of occasion. Limerick performed well but couldn't get that elusive winner many felt their play had earned. Tonight they travel to a Drogheda United team who didn't turn up against Pats last week. Mick Cooke is an experienced manager and its unlikely that his team will underperform as poorly tonight in their home opener. If Limerick do manage to win tonight, the rest of the league will be on notice that they are a team to contend with this year
5) How will the long weekend affect clubs?
There's 5 games tonight with champions Sligo Rovers playing their first home game of the season at home to Bray Wanderers tomorrow. On Monday Bohs host their big rivals Shamrock Rovers in Dalymount while the rest of the division plays again on Tuesday night. With part-time players now the norm, and plenty of extracurricular activities on this weekend, the teams with the best discipline and fitness should be rewarded. Most clubs don't have big enough squads to rotate so keeping players fresh is a difficult task.
Whatever happens, enjoy the games