The End is Nigh

The World Cup is a now distant memory, while the All-Ireland triumph will soon follow it. The majority of English Premier League (and most European leagues), as well as Munster rugby, have only just begun. And, of course, Ireland’s qualifying campaign for Euro 2012 is underway, with quite a successful start. But, what of our own domestic football league – the League of Ireland? And, closer to home, Cork City?

Well, as has been long established since the early to mid noughties, the LoI runs through the summer, as opposed to the traditional winter campaign of most leagues. Therefore, while the majority of Europe is only rising from the slumber of the warmer months, we prepare for our own hibernation. Before we do, however, there’s the little matter of the run-ins of the two tiers of the League of Ireland.

The Premier Division table is much the same as this time last season. Shamrock Rovers lead the pile, while Bohemians are hot on their tails. A recent slip up by Rovers has lead to their north Dublin rivals to close the gap, but it’s still the Tallaght men’s title to lose…provided they have the nerve not to repeat last year’s collapse and throwaway of the trophy. On the outskirts, though unlikely to be much of a threat at the twilight stage of the campaign, lie St. Pats, Sligo and Sporting Fingal, respectively. The remaining Europa League spot, awarded to third place, is still on the radar for all three, though, so there’s still plenty to play for.

Switching to the bottom half of the table, all five teams are in danger of relegation. Bray and Drogheda seem consigned to the bottom two, but with second last being a play-off with third last (as opposed to the automatic drop of bottom), they certainly won’t have a trouble free run in. Meanwhile, Dundalk, UCD and Galway could all slip into the remaining play-off, so they too can’t afford to slack off, either.

What is now of more concern to the Rebel County is the First Division, which houses Cork City. Following two seasons of financial trouble, which the City faithful were powerless to prevent, the club is now a fans-owned entity. Unfortunately, that couldn’t prevent an effective demotion to the second tier of Irish football. But, all in all, this season has turned out to be rather successful. Despite heavy criticism of manager Tommy Dunne’s perceived negative tactics, and a mid-season drought of wins, the Rebel Army have managed to turn their fortunes around.

Though the Leesiders lie in mid-table, a mere five points (at the time of writing) separates them from the nearest play-off spot. With City having arguably the easiest run in of the other teams chasing that final play-off, a late smash and grab is certainly far from inconceivable. After all, there have been plenty of campaigns where a comfortable lead was let slip, and various trophies lost by small margins – it’s about time City inflicted that misfortune onto others. Ulster sides, Monaghan and Derry occupy the top two, while Waterford, Shelbourne, Limerick and City, of course, are all striving for that elusive play-off spot. At the opposite end of the league, Galway sides Salthill and Mervue are destined for the bottom two and, with third last surely out of sight, compete to avoid the sole drop spot.

The domestic cup scene has thrown up a few interesting ties, this season, as well. First Division side Monaghan United made it all the way through to the final before being beaten by Premier high-flyers Sligo Rovers. Meanwhile, the FAI Cup is also nearing a finish, with the semi-final draw pairing Bohemians with Sligo, and Shamrock Rovers with Luas-line neighbours, St Pats. With a place at the newly developed Lansdowne Road awaiting the finalists, it goes without saying that all four sides won’t be short of motivation. Cork City, unfortunately, were knocked out in the early, last 16 phases of both competitions – the Rebel Army will be hopeful of a more rejuvenated cup run next year, as enjoyed many times in erstwhile seasons.

So, as we celebrate the recent All-Ireland victory, and gaze on at the football overseas, don’t forget to keep an eye on the final stages of the 2010 League of Ireland. And maybe even take a trip out to Turners Cross to see a bit of ball, banners and banter.

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