It’s set for a defining night at the bottom and top of both divisions of the Airtricity League as automatic relegation and promotion will most likely be settled.
UCD have been rooted to the foot of the Premier Division since early March and failure to beat champions Shamrock Rovers at the UCD Bowl will end their two-season stint in the top flight. UCD announced on Thursday evening that manager Andy Myler will step down at the end of the season.
At Mounthawk Park, Tralee, if FAI Cup semi-finalists Galway United secure at least a point against bottom side Kerry FC it will rubberstamp their return to the top flight as First Division champions after a six-year absence.
Meanwhile, St Patrick’s Athletic have not given up on the title just yet as they host Dundalk at Richmond Park with the Louth side smarting from a demoralising 4-0 FAI Cup quarter-final defeat at Galway last week.
Jon Daly’s third-placed St Patrick’s are four points behind Derry City and eight off leaders Rovers, but have a game in hand. They meet the champions in the penultimate game of the season in Inchicore before travelling to the Brandywell on the last night.
Daly does not believe their title aspirations are all but shot. “I don’t think I would ever give up on that. Anyone who can mathematically still win the league will have to believe that things can work out for them. If we were to win [on Friday night] and win our game in hand on Monday, you could be five points behind and still have to play Rovers. It’s obviously not in our own hands, but we will certainly keep going until the death.”
Following their abject showing in Galway, which their manager Stephen O’Donnell described as his lowest moment in football, Daly expects a backlash from Dundalk.
He agreed the visitors represented the proverbial wounded animal. “Yes, they will be. Sometimes after a result like that you get a good reaction and I’d imagine that’s what Stevie will be looking for. So we have to be prepared for that.”
O’Donnell said he and his players deserved every bit of criticism following last week’s debacle.
“It was fully justified and we must take it on the chin,” he said. “I have absolutely no issues with that. We’re Dundalk Football Club, in a cup quarter-final and that performance, obviously headed by me, was unacceptable. Everyone’s going to be looking for a reaction. Our character’s being called into question, our personality, our professionalism. But sometimes you’ve got to embrace it, roll with the punches, enjoy the adversity and see how you come out of it. There’s a balance to things. You’ve got to reflect and you’ve got to speak about what happened. We went through it and … we made it known that it’s unacceptable.”
He added: “Then you have got to flip it and say, ‘right, what’s our reaction? What’s our response?’ It’s a balance of looking back … and then looking forward for a response. Our backs are against the wall … and Pat’s will be feeling that we’re vulnerable so what are we about as a group?”
Friday night’s fixtures (7.45pm unless stated)
Premier Division: Drogheda United v Bohemians; St Patrick’s Athletic v Dundalk; Shelbourne v Cork City; Sligo Rovers v Derry City; UCD v Shamrock Rovers.
First Division: Cobh Ramblers v Finn Harps; Kerry FC v Galway United; Longford Town v Waterford; Treaty United v Athlone Town; Wexford FC v Bray Wanderers