As we come into the final lap of this season’s Airtricity League, I have to report it has been the most exciting and entertaining in many a long year, no matter what club you support.
In the past the league has been branded a “Problem Child ” by FAI Chief Executive John Delaney, a statement I found very strange at the time, but I do hope this season he is swallowing his words as the weeks have gone along. The players and the supporters have not let themselves down as we have trawled through this summer festival of football, though to be quite honest I prefer the winter football myself, nothing beats a Friday night in Dalymount or Tolka Park under the fllodlights to get the hair on the back of your neck standing up. But quite a few years back the powers that be, decided to switch to summer football to try and give the Irish clubs a better chance in progressing when they have qualified for European competition.
Let me below bring you right up to date with everything that is going on and where I think the trophies and honours are going to end up this season, with one little extra special mention to champions Dundalk who are on a run in Europe, yes an Airtricity League side is causing ripples in Europe.
In the Premier League it has been a two horse race between Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk and John Caulfield’s Cork City. Those two teams have been technically the best two sides I have seen in the league in years.
The hard work both managers have put in, has brought their clubs to a new level, it is actually a joy to watch both sides either in person live or on TV. Dundalk have opened up a seven point lead at the top of the table and at the time of writing, Cork City have a game in hand. The run in over the next couple of weeks will be both exciting and nerve racking for all involved. Dundalk’s run in the Europa League is giving them extra games and this has given Cork a real chance to claim this seasons title. The cherry on the top of the cake is the fact that both sides have to meet again this season and that game could be billed as winner takes all. One aspect of this season,s Premier League which has disappointed me is the fact that none of the Dublin clubs have put any sort of a challenge together. Saint Patrick’s Athletic, Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians have been hugely disappointing and the gap between them and the top two is huge in terms of ability and technique and this is not acceptable from a fans point of view. Things got so bad at Shamrock Rovers, that half way through the season they parted company with manager Pat Fenlon, news that came as a bit of a shock to the supporters of this once great club.
At the bottom of the table are Longford and I can not see anyway out of trouble for them, they sit six points behind Wexford Youths and it will take a monumental effort to get out of trouble now. Wexford themselves have a possibility of getting out of the relegation play off spot as they only sit four points behind third bottom side Finn Harps, who are on a downward spiral at the moment. It will be a few more weeks before all the winners and losers will be sorted out, but in my opinion without a doubt this has been a season to remember.
As I wrote earlier, the teams from Dublin have been very disappointing this season and it would be nice to see them put together a challenge next season. One side who are putting things together on and off the field are Bohemians, they plan to have huge improvements to their ground and in my opinion they could be a force next season. This season manager Keith Long has them playing beautiful football and if next season they can find a bit of cutting edge they could be real contenders. The back room staff that Keith Long has put together is probably the most experienced one in the league. Alongside Keith there is Graham O’Hanlon, Fred Davis and Dave Henderson, a group that has more years than I care to remember in Airtricity League experience. If the team from Dalymount Park can bring in a strong centre half and striker, we could have lift off. This seasons Leinster Senior Cup winners are a huge club and have under achieved for to long now, if Long and his squad can put in a good shift next season, who knows where they could end up. The Airtricity League is superb if you ask any supporter and if the top clubs keep developing over the coming years,you will have the fans flocking to the games.
( All point gaps correct at the time of writing)