Derry's defeat gives glimmer of hope


THAT was the weekend that was, and potentially a very significant one at that. Kilkenny took another sizeable step toward gracing next season's Premier Division, and Shamrock Rovers cemented their historic hold on it, while Home Farm rebounded back to the First but not before putting a final dent in Bohemians' title aspirations.

Meanwhile, the probability of Derry starting next season as champions decreased just a notch. There could be life in this here league yet.

Derry's surprise defeat at home to Sligo Rovers gave just a glimmer of hope to the chasing duo, even if Bohemians were unable to avail of it. John Coady's injury time penalty constituted the fourth time this season that Bohemians end-of-match conservatism has cost them a late equaliser.

In other words, eight points lost at the death, and claims that they could be too conservative for their own good now ring truer than ever.

As things stand, the maximum points tally available to them is 63. Thus, even if they won their concluding six games, they would still need Derry to drop 11 or 12 points, and Shelbourne at least six, to overhaul the two clubs above them.

In as much as there is any trend since the introduction of three points for a win in the 1993-94 season, something more than 63 would be required in any case. Dundalk, admittedly, won the title two seasons ago with 59 points, but that is likely to be uncommonly low as the years pass by. A more realistic target would be the 66 or 67 points attained by Shamrock Rovers three seasons ago and St Patrick's last season.

Hence, it is possible that Shelbourne (with a maximum 69 points available to them) might be able to afford one more lapse, be it a draw or even a seventh defeat. However, for that to happen then they would have to beat Derry in the pivotal game to the run-in at Tolka Park on April 11th. They almost certainly have to anyway.

That match is shaping up into a proverbial six-pointer and no mistake. With Shelbourne also having a game in hand, there is a "nine point swing" available to them.

Indeed, following Derry's defeat at the Brandywell, were Felix Healy's side to just draw one of their other games then technically Shelbourne would have the destiny of the league title in their own hands. Nonetheless, that demands that they win their next seven dames - making it 10 successive wins in all - which is a very tall order

Yet the first real signs of pressure are now being applied on Derry. With Shelbourne enjoying another three league games in a row at home (including their game in hand), failure to beat UCD at Belfield Park next Sunday could leave Derry at risk of losing the leadership when they visit Tolka Park on April 11th.

For all of that, Derry are still very much in charge and remain strong odds-on favourites to win the title. A draw in that summit meeting at Tolka would leave them requiring just 11 points from their other five games. They could even afford to lose in Tolka, for were they to win four and draw one of their other five games their nearest pursuers would still have to win all their remaining games. But Derry's margin for error is perhaps not quite as great as their current eight point buffer implies.

It hinges on that April 11th meeting, and away from all the sums and figures, so many other imponderables. Crucially for Shelbourne, Pascal Vaudequin returns from suspension after this week. Peter Hutton's rate of recovery, currently rated a fortnight away, is also vital

And there's more, for there is little room left for manoeuvre in the fixture pile-up. Not only Shelbourne perhaps, but also the National League and the entire Premier Division ought to fervently hope that the holders FAI Cup semi-final on Friday week does not go to a replay.