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First Division Run-In Guide

In a truncated season like this, there have been very few games if any without any significance in the League of Ireland. Even more so that’s the case in the First Division with an automatic promotion place and 5 play-off places. It’s going down to the wire despite looking like a one-horse race for early parts of the season. There are 11 games remaining, 10 of which involve a team in contention for a play-off place.

The Promotion Race

Remaining Fixtures

Round 17

Friday 16th

Drogheda United v Wexford

UCD v Cabinteely

Saturday 17th

Shamrock Rovers II v Athlone Town

Longford Town v Cobh Ramblers

Round 16

Tuesday 20th

Galway United v Drogheda United

Round 17

Saturday 24th

Bray Wanderers v Galway United

Round 18

Tuesday 27th

Athlone Town v Bray Wanderers

Cabinteely v Drogheda United

Cobh Ramblers v Shamrock Rovers II

Galway United v UCD

Wexford v Longford Town

Automatic Promotion

While Longford Town can mathematically still get top spot it looks unlikely. They would need Bray to fail to take anything from their remaining two games, and would require Drogheda to take no more than 5 points from their remaining 3 games. Furthermore there would need to be a goal difference swing of 12 goals in their favor.

More likely it’s between Bray Wanderers and Drogheda United. Drogheda have a game in hand but have the more difficult turnaround. having to go to Galway just 4 days after hosting Wexford. That will be Galway’s first game back. Bray may benefit from having their rearanged fixture afterwards, they host Galway that Saturday. Although Galway are one of the form teams in the division having won 4 of the last 5. They’ve been on super form since John Caulfield took over. They will offer a stern test for both of the sides chasing automatic promotion. Bray will need just 2 points from their remaining games to seal the title if Drogheda lose one of their remaining games. They have only conceded two league goals at home this season, and have a preferable final day game against 8th placed Athlone, who may have an eye on the cup. However if Drogheda win all 3 of their remaining games and Bray lose one they will be champions.

Play-Offs

Only Bray Wanderers are mathematically guaranteed at least a play-off place. That being said it’s unlikely Drogheda and Longford will fall out at this stage. The final two spots will likely come down to UCD, Cabinteely, Galway, and Cobh. Cabinteely looked to be running away with the league until they fell into an abysmal run of form, which now means they could drop out of the play-off places this weekend if they lose. Galway have an extra game to play over their rivals, if they win next Tuesday they will find their way into the play-offs. Goal difference could factor in with 4 teams within 3 points of eachother. UCD and Galway are best placed in that respect to gain a chance at promotion.

Update: Wexford have been found guilty of fielding an ineligible player. Cabinteely and Longford will likely be awarded 3 points.

The team that wins the play-offs will have to face the 9th placed team in the Premier Division, which is likely to be either Finn Harps, Cork City, or Shelbourne.

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Kenny Era Needs To Be Given Time

It’s been a long wait for the Ireland men’s team to return to action, and it’s been even longer to have Stephen Kenny at the wheel. It was an unusual start to the reign, it’s not often that a manager is told he will be replacing a coach after a qualifying campaign, before that manager has had a game in charge in his spell with the team. But when Mick McCarthy took over for a second time, the plan was always, and publicly, to bring in Kenny. There’s pressure on the man who talk Dundalk to the brink of Champions League football in 2016, but the Irish fans and media need to understand that this is a long term project.

The Republic of Ireland men’s team have been in an odd time of ups and downs. Under Trapattoni they nearly got to a World Cup, and qualified for Euro 2012, the first major tournament in 10 years. Euro 2012 was disastrous for the Irish, and from then the writing was on the wall. It seemed Trap just didn’t have faith in creative Irish talent, and din’t have belief in the team.

Martin O’Neil came in alongside Roy Keane. Ireland qualified for Euro 2016, admittedly with help from a Scottish collapse. Euro 2016 will be fondly remembered, despite Ireland only winning 1 game. It seemed like the start of a new positive period in Irish football. However the next campaign was one of missed opportunities, Ireland ended up in a world cup play-off when they really should have topped the group and qualified automatically. From there a hammering against Denmark, and a disappointing subsequent Nations League campaign saw the end of the O’Neil Era.

Then came the announcement that McCarthy would come in for a 2nd spell while Stephen Kenny would take charge of the U21’s, before eventually taking the big job. Mick’s reign saw conservative functional football that has seen Ireland get to a play-off while only scoring 7 goals in 8 games, including 2 games against minnows Gibraltar. Notable performances include at home to Georgia, the 2nd half away to Denmark, at home to Switzerland, and at home to Denmark. 3 and half good days out of 8, with Ireland only taking 5 points from those good games.

Kenny isn’t inheriting a winning team. He’s taking over a team that is lost for identity at the moment and needs to find itself. There’s been a lack of firepower and a lack of creativity in the team. It’ll take time for that to change.

Many seemed to be surprised and perhaps disappointed that Kenny hadn’t brought in a host of new faces in his first squad announcement. He could hardly be expected to do so. The reality of international football is you don’t have as much time to work with players as you do at club level. A whole host of changes wouldn’t be practical. While there are notable absentees, the squad still has excitement around it.

This is a longterm project. Kenny isn’t going to come in here and change the footballing culture immediately. Ireland has been stuck in a rut for some time. It will take time to bed in belief and new faces, and a new positive way of playing. Tonight against Bulgaria we can hope to see signs of positive play and a good structure, but it’s hardly realistic to look for wholesale changes. These players aren’t machines. The first step is to instill believe that Ireland can play football.

Regardless as to whether Ireland top their Nations League group, or qualify for the Euros (which would require two difficult away wins), Kenny’s team ca’t be judged so soon. He should be given until at least the qualifying campaign for Euro 2024. That’s not too many games. By then we can see if he is the man for the job. That’s the reality. There’s no quick fix. There’s a lot of good talent coming through, Idah in Molumby in the senior squad come to mind, but it will take time.

Support the team tonight and on Sunday, and continue to support them regardless of the result.

Kevin Doyle: Why Stephen Kenny...
[Image: OTBSports.com]

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