THE KINGS ARE dead; long live the kings.
When the 2012 fixture list was announced, the Airtricity League computer was so bold as to demand what few scriptwriters would dare suggest. Shamrock Rovers would visit Sligo Rovers on the last day of the season; the champions would stand toe-to-toe with the main pretenders to their throne.
Before the first ball had been kicked back in March, the final Friday of October was earmarked for a cliffhanger ending.
Fortunately for Ian Baraclough and his men, football doesn’t always wrap up with a grandstand finale worthy of Hollywood. So when Mark Quigley skipped the final few pages of the script and pencilled in his own version with late dramatics against St Patrick’s Athletic, it didn’t matter a jot.
And so for all its promise, the action on the pitch in the Showgrounds tonight is merely a sideshow, a 90-minute appetiser before captain Danny Ventre receives the league trophy on the Bit O’Red’s behalf for the first time since 1977. It is a moment which will be savoured out west, regardless of the result, but the perfectionist in Baraclough insists that his side will finish the job they started eight months ago.
“We want to go out on a high and let people not just leave the ground knowing that the team are champions but that we did it in the best possible fashion,” Baraclough said.
There is that mentality in the group and that was clear from the first game against Shelbourne in Tolka Park. They never give up and it is something that comes from within. We want to go out on a high and create history and create landmarks for this team.
With over 6,000 fans expected, tonight’s game is a sell-out. Suspension means that Ventre will play no part in the on-field action while Alan Keane, Iarfhliath Davoren, Danny North and Seamus Conneely all miss out through injury. Mark Quigley, shortlisted yesterday for PFAI Player of the Year, returns from a calf problem.
If results go their way, Shamrock Rovers still have a slim chance of leapfrogging St Pat’s and finishing third, claiming the second Europa League spot. Ciaran Kilduff (throat infection) and Tommy Stewart (thigh strain) are both ruled out of the game through injury, while Shane O’Connor will undergo a fitness test tomorrow.
With one eye on next weekend’s FAI Cup Final against Derry, Pat’s host Cork City in Inchicore knowing that a point would guarantee European football and a win could possibly see them move above Drogheda United to finish as runners-up.
Player of the Year hopeful Sean O’Connor sits out the Saints’ final league game due to suspension while City boss Tommy Dunne is without Garry Buckley (knee) and Ireland underage international Brian Lenihan (back).
In Dalymount Park, Bohemians host Drogheda United in a game that can confirm Drogs’ runner-up finish or Bohs’ place in the Setanta Sports Cup next season.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way. You don’t really want a meaningless game with nothing at stake,” Bohs boss Aaron Callaghan said.
This situation puts a bit of an edge on the game which is always good. I believe there’s a twist in this somewhere and I just hope the twist goes our way.
Owen Heary (hamstring), Derek Pender (back), Adam Martin (ankle), Andy Mulligan (ankle), Luke Byrne (ankle) and Michael Barker (illness) are all missing for the Gypsies while Mick Cooke’s men will be without Declan “Fabio” O’Brien who was sent off in last week’s win against Sligo.
With nothing but pride at stake tonight, Dundalk manager Darius Kierans says that he will be resting some players for the visit of Bray Wanderers. The Lilywhites play either Waterford United or Longford Town in a two-legged promotion/relegation play-off next week and Kierans knows that survival is the clear priority.
“We will approach the game in a positive manner and see where it goes but there’s no doubt having everyone fit and available for Tuesday is the main thing,” he said.
Derek Foran (groin), John Mountney (appendix), Gary Shanahan (ankle), Paul Walsh (groin) and Stephen Maher (suspension) are all certain absentees while Bray are missing Conor Earley (knee), John Mulroy (ankle) and Ismahel Akinade (groin). Seagulls defender Dave Webster is suspended but Adam Mitchell and Dane Massey are available.
UCD host Shelbourne in the Belfield Bowl. David O’Connor (hamstring) and goalkeeper John Kelly are out but Students boss Martin Russell has a full panel to choose from otherwise with Graham Rusk and Cillian Morrison both fit again.
Airtricity League fixtures (all Friday, 7.45pm)
- Bohemian FC v Drogheda United
- Dundalk v Bray Wanderers
- St Patrick’s Athletic v Cork City
- Sligo Rovers v Shamrock Rovers
- UCD v Shelbourne
First Division play-off, second leg
- Waterford United (2) v (0) Longford Town