FAI National League Previews


Premier Division


Bray Wanderers v UCD (Carlisle Grounds, 3.15)

UCD manger Theo Dunne has set his side's sights on a top four finish. "We're unbeaten in six matches and have proved in our games with Cork City and St Patrick's that we can live with the top team. An InterToto Cup place is within our grasp."

Tony McDonnell is doubtful for the Students with a recurrence of the back strain that hindered him earlier in the season. If he fails to make it, then Robert McAuley is likely to come into the team. "I was glad to see Bray end their eight-match losing run in Dundalk last week, as I didn't want them coming here with that hanging over them," added Dunne.

Bray's win was at a cost, however. Goalkeeper John Walsh is struggling with an ankle injury which means Alan O'Neill, now 41, stands by.

Jody Lynch (hamstring), Stuart Connolly (infected toe) and Barry O'Connor (groin) are all doubtful. However, Jason Byrne, still the team's topscorer with five goals, resumes after a two-match absence with a groin injury.

Last two seasons: 1997/98: Did not meet. 1998/99: UCD 3 Bray Wanderers 1.

Current league form: Bray Wanderers: LLLLW; UCD: DWWWD.

Leading scorers: Bray Wanderers: Byrne (five); UCD: O'Byrne (five).

Betting: Home: 15/8, Draw: 7/4, Away: 6/4.

Referee: R O'Hanlon (Waterford).

Cork City v Sligo Rovers (Turner's Cross, 2.0)

With the first leg of a potential treble already christened with champagne, Cork look to end a great week with a hat-trick of wins to keep their main concern, a second Premier Division title, well on course.

Dave Barry's team came through Wednesday's League Cup second leg win over Shamrock Rovers relatively unscathed. Colm O'Brien shipped one or two heavy knocks but has shown no reaction, leaving Barry free to pick the same side. Patsy Freyne completes his three-match ban, while Dave Hill plays his last game before missing the first defence of the FAI Cup next week through suspension.

Sligo are still without the suspended pair of Neil Ogden and Jim Sheridan, while club skipper Steve Birks (ankle) and Matt Boswell (broken leg) are injured.

"We fell to pieces after winning the League Cup earlier in the year," said Sligo manager Nicky Reid, "but I can't see that happening to Cork," he added solemnly.

Last two seasons: 1997/98: Sligo Rovers 0 Cork City 2, Cork City 1 Sligo Rovers 1, Sligo Rovers 4 Cork City 1. 1998/9: Sligo Rovers 0 Cork City 2.

Current league form: Cork City: DDDLW; Sligo Rovers: LWLDL.

Leading scorers: Cork City: Cahil (six); Sligo Rovers: Hallows (seven).

Betting: Home: 2/5, Draw: 11/4, Away: 8/1.

Referee: J Feighery (Dublin).

Derry City v Waterford UTD (Brandywell, 3.15)

With both sides currently afflicted with severe goal-shyness, something surely must give at the Brandywell tomorrow afternoon.

Derry have scored only three times in their last six games while Waterford have scored a miserly four goals since manager Mike Flanagan took over nine games ago.

"We're fully aware that we're not scoring, but there has been nothing drastically wrong with the way we've been playing," insists Derry manager Kevin Mahon.

Paul Hegarty, the engine of Derry's midfield, is almost certainly out having retired at half-time against Shelbourne last week with a hamstring injury. Also out with hamstring trouble are Gary Beckett and Eddie McCallion, while Liam Coyle and the two Kellys, Darren and Michael, didn't train this week due to flu.

Waterford struggle on without John Frost, Barry Wood and Joe Harkin, who are injured, while Alan Reynolds and Tim McGrath are suspended.

Last two seasons: 1997/98: Did not meet. 1998/99: Waterford United 1 Derry City 2.

Current league form: Derry City: DWDLL; Waterford United: DLLDL.

Leading scorers: Derry City: L Coyle (six); Waterford United: Dully, Harkin and Wood (two each).

Betting: Home: 4/5, Draw: 9/4, Away: 3/1.

Referee: D Hancock (Dublin).

Dundalk v Bohemians (Oriel Park, 3.15)

"It was a real let-down to lose at home to Bray after we looked like we had pulled ourselves away form the bottom," said Dundalk manager Jim McLaughlin, after last week's defeat.

Dundalk wait on Noel Melvin and Brian Byrne, who have sore knees, and John Brennan (hamstring), but all three are expected to start.

Paul Byrne is drafted into the Bohemians squad, who report no injuries but are without Shaun Maher through suspension. Manager Roddy Collins expects to sign a player from the Irish League, but not in time for this game. "We may be bottom, but that's temporary," says Collins.

Last two seasons: 1997/98: Dundalk 2 Bohemians 2, Bohemians 2 Dundalk 0, Dundalk 3 Bohemians 3. 1998/99: Bohemians 1 Dundalk 0.

Current league form: Dundalk: WDDWL; Bohemians: LDDWD.

Leading scorers: Dundalk: Withnell (four); Bohemians: Swan (six).

Betting: Home: 13/8, Draw: 7/4, Away: 7/4.

Referee: G Perry (Dublin).

Shamrock Rvs v Finn Harps (Tolka Park, 2.15)

"We're consistent enough this season to be more than just a good bet for the cup," says Finn Harps' manager Charlie McGeever.

Whether Harps can gatecrash the lead already stolen by Cork City and St Patrick's, 15 and 12 points respectively, is debatable. McGeever is only too aware that Harps have only themselves to blame for not taking any advantage of the leaders' respective slip-ups recently.

"Not playing last week was annoying, as it was the third Christmas in a row that we had no match due to a postponement," said McGeever.

"UCD have been the only team that's really turned us over, and the fact it was only our fourth defeat in 22 matches all season remains encouraging."

Tom Mohan is back from flu and returns to the right side of midfield, with John-Gerard McGettigan the likely one to have to drop to the bench.

Davy Dowling, recovered from a knee injury, has joined Brian Flood on the transfer list.

Rovers' captain Paul Whelan completes his three-match suspension.

Current league form: 1997/98: Shamrock Rovers 2 Finn Harps 1, Finn Harps 2 Shamrock Rovers 1, Shamrock Rovers 2 Finn Harps 2. 1998/99: Finn Harps 2 Shamrock Rovers 1.

Leading scorers: Shamrock Rovers: Kenny (six); Finn Harps: Mulligan (eight).

Betting: Home: 5/4, Draw: 2/1, Away: 2/1.

Referee: T Tully (Cork).

First Division

Drogheda United manager Martin Lawlor says his side's capacity to stay top of the table is now as much about mental attitude as anything else. "We're top and there to be shot at," says Lawlor. "How we cope with the pressure is now the key."

Drogheda lead on goal difference from Cobh Ramblers but have two games in hand.

Darren O'Keeffe is suspended for tonight's game with Limerick at United Park, while left back Gerry Boyle is out with a knee injury.

Limerick will give a late fitness test to Paul Carr on his troublesome groin injury, but are definitely without Declan Casey for several weeks after he was stretchered off the field with knee ligament damage against Galway last week.

Second-placed Cobh will hope to get back to winning ways with a difficult game away to Kilkenny City.

Erstwhile leaders Longford Town have a good opportunity to end their three-match losing run with a home tie against bottom of the table St Francis, while Home Farm/Everton and Athlone Town meet at Whitehall.

Betting courtesy of Paddy Power.