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Cork City have eyes on the prize while others fight for survival

Crucial night at both ends of the table in the Premier Division of the Airtricity League

John Caulfield: Cork City manager will be hoping his side take a giant step towards the title – and perhaps win it – by defeating Limerick. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

It has the makings of a big night in the Airtricity League’s Premier Division with significant stakes in every game, several teams scrambling for survival and Cork City potentially in a position to clinch the title at the Markets Field.

To do it, John Caulfield’s men would have to beat Limerick and hope Dundalk drop points. It is the latter half of the equation that seems less likely to add up, though, with Drogheda United heading to Oriel Park after having lost their last two games against Stephen Kenny’s side by a combined 10 goals to nil.

Caulfield insists the game in Limerick will be a tough one for his side and if City fail to wrap things up this evening then it will make for quite a tie at Turner’s Cross on Monday when Dundalk will be the opposition and a draw might well be enough for the hosts to finally claim the title.

First, though, City must overcome a Limerick side that is suddenly having to scrap to avoid being dragged back into the relegation mire. Neil McDonald’s side played well for spells as they earned a draw last week in Bray but they are likely to be tested more severely here despite Alan Bennett, Garry Buckley and Steven Beattie all facing late fitness tests.

“We know that we will have to play at our maximum,” says the Cork boss, “but we know if we do that, we will have an opportunity to win the match.”

Drogheda, facing an already daunting assignment, are handicapped by both injuries and suspensions with Chris Mulhall and Jake Hyland the players absent due to bans. Dylan Connolly returns for the hosts after having been cup-tied for the EA Sports Cup final while Dane Massey is fit again but John Mounteney is still sidelined and Tommy Stewart is a doubt despite having come on late and scored in Tallaght.

A win for Bray at Derry would help to revive their hopes of snatching qualification for the Europa League and would certainly further dent Kenny Shiels’ side’s hopes of finishing third.

Motivating sides

But elsewhere the fear of relegation is the biggest thing motivating sides.

“There was almost a level of desperation about our performance against Derry and we cannot drop our performance levels one percent,” said Galway United boss Shane Keegan whose side host Sligo Rovers in a particularly high-stakes game.

“Rory Hale used the line ‘it’s kill or be killed,’ during the week and that’s the mentality that we have to head into the Sligo Rovers game with.”

Keegan is without Niall Maher, who limped off during the Derry win with a hamstring problem while Gerard Lyttle must give quite a few players late fitness tests but the visitors are boosted by the return from suspension of Raffaele Cretaro, John Russell and Michael Leahy.

Currently third by a point, Shamrock Rovers will be without suspended teenager Aaron Bolger for the visit of Finn Harps who themselves have Killian Cantwell as well as their manager Ollie Horgan in the stands because of bans. Packie Mailey is ruled out by a hamstring problem while Paddy McCourt, Ethan Boyle, Gareth Harkin and Sean Houston are all doubts.

In the First Division, meanwhile, it is all over bar the celebration for Waterford who play Longford Town safe in the knowledge that they will be in the top flight next season following last Saturday’s win for Cabinteely in Cobh.

Fixtures (7.45 unless stated). Premier Division: Bohemians v St Patrick’s Athletic, Derry City v Bray Wanderers, Dundalk v Drogheda United, Galway United v Sligo Rovers, Limerick v Cork City, Shamrock Rovers v Finn Harps (8.0). First Division: Cabinteely v Athlone Town, UCD Cobh Ramblers, Waterford v Longford Town, Wexford v Shelbourne (8.0).