Airtricity League preview: Nobody standing out from the crowd ahead of mini-break

Stephen Bradley still figuring out the most efficient way to build around Jack Byrne

Statistically speaking, the Airtricity League goes into its first mini-break – to align with Republic of Ireland friendlies against Belgium and Lithuania – with plenty of clubs poised to give Shamrock Rovers a run for their money.

The eye test tells an entirely different story.

Rovers have lost twice on the road, to St Patrick's Athletic and Derry City, but there is not enough evidence to suggest anything other than Stephen Bradley is methodically figuring out the most efficient way to build around Jack Byrne's silky touch en route to capturing a third successive title.

St Pat's have found a groove, with three snappy wins for new manager Tim Clancy since losing to Bohemians on February 28th, to go top of the table. Again, this feels temporary, with Derry keen to usurp them on Friday night at the Brandywell. Or a winner from Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers in Tallaght could end up topping the pile before games resume on April Fool's Day.


Nothing is certain. Take Dundalk as a prime example. Undefeated in six outings, Stephen O’Donnell’s charges sit on a measly eight points due to five draws. Sligo and Derry have also yet to lose.

What all this means is there is a better chance of turning a profit at Cheltenham than there is of accurately predicting how most fixtures will pan out.

Except Bohs at UCD tonight. The Students are winless from five games with a relegation scrap already lined up against Finn Harps and Drogheda United.

No individual performer has yet to separate himself from the crowd either. Okay, Steven Bradley looks an astute loan signing by Dundalk from Hibernian but Byrne, for all his majesty on the ball, was crowded out of influencing the second half of recent Dublin derbies against St Pat's and Bohs.

Nobody has caught fire on the goalscoring-front either with Derry's Jamie McGonigle and Sligo's Aidan Keena joining Bradley on four strikes. That said, Eoin Doyle finally got motoring for St Pat's, scoring twice in as many matches, which suggests the 33-year-old will begin to replicate his prolific return over the past 10 seasons in England.

That is all we know from the first six rounds. Next to nothing – except confirmation that most grounds need remedial work to cater for consistently high attendances – as the league’s mostly renovated squads have yet to reveal their true selves. And Rovers, a group so obviously built for a European run, haven’t woken up.

At least Damien Duff has settled into sending out a compact Shelbourne side that he continually praises in public: "I just think they're going to get stronger and stronger and feel their way into the league more."

That is precisely what most players need to hear after banking one win from six. Perhaps Seán Boyd will prove the striker Shels still hope Dan Carr can become.

Friday’s games (7.45pm unless stated)

UCD v Bohemians, UCD Bowl, 5pm
Bohs front man Promise Omochere was tipped this week to become the best player in the league by his predecessor Georgie Kelly. Recent form has not been strong enough to demand a call into the Ireland under-21s squad, while UCD's Colm Whelan has been, which makes for a fascinating meeting on campus this evening.

Drogheda United v Dundalk, Head in the Game Park – Live RTÉ Two
Odd choice, at best, for the live broadcast with St Pat's up to Derry and Sligo visiting Tallaght, especially considering so many fascinating Dublin derbies have gone untelevised in a season when the national broadcaster is presumably attempting to establish a larger audience.

Shelbourne v Finn Harps, Tolka Park
Duff is not wrong in stating this is "bigger than Bohs last Monday", when a respectable 1-1 draw was reward for a compact defensive showing, as one of these teams are bound to be dragged into the relegation mire.

Derry City v St Patrick's Athletic, Brandywell
A statement match for both clubs. Eoin Doyle is hinting at catching fire for St Pat's but the same could be said about Derry's Jamie McGonigle. The Candystripes look the stronger outfit, even with Michael Duffy fracturing his tibia against Drogheda.

Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers, Tallaght Stadium, 8pm
Following Aidan Keena's hat-trick against Harps on Monday, Sligo lie second in the table with a game in hand on St Pat's. Liam Buckley worked similar early-season magic last year before Rovers' deep pockets outlasted everyone else.