Drogheda in the driving seat as First Division reaches a thrilling finale

Seven of the league’s 10 sides are in promotion contention heading into final night

 

Proponents the world over of league structures specifically designed to ensure that more games matter might cite this year’s Airtricity League First Division as an example of what they aspire to. The season may have been short but seven of the 10 teams are still in contention to go up and every one of Tuesday evening’s final round of matches involves at least one team with a great deal to play for.

Opponents might point to it too, of course, with Cabinteely, the side currently occupying the last of four playoff places, going into their game against league leaders Drogheda United having won just two and drawn one of their last 10 games. Lose again on Tuesday night and their opponents will go up as champions while they will almost certainly be overtaken by one of, if not both Galway United and Cobh Ramblers.

The key issue to be decided is which club will be champions and so be promoted without having to suffer the trauma of the playoffs. Given their one point and four goal advantage, combined with that recent form of Cabinteely’s, United look like fairly firm favourites with Bray Wanderers having surrendered their place in the driving seat on Saturday when they were beaten at home by Galway United.

Both Tim Clancy and Gary Cronin are expected to have pretty much full-strength squads to choose from and Wanderers can still leapfrog their rivals with a win as long as Drogheda do not also take three points while a particularly heavy defeat for the top side at Stradbrook, by five goals or more, would mean a draw in Athlone would be enough for the visitors.

That would ordinarily be enough to be getting on with on the final night of a season but two, notionally even three of the four playoff places are up for grabs with John Caulfield’s Galway United best placed to nip ahead of somebody.

UCD would have to take a very big beating at Eamonn Deacy Park, by five or more goals again, to miss out but United’s form since John Caulfield took over in mid August would have them top had it extended back to the start of the campaign.Having won 3-0 in Belfield last month they put six past Longford a few weeks back and nothing can be entirely ruled out. Even then, though, Andy Myler’s side might hang on to a top five spot defending on results elsewhere.

Rather more straightforwardly, Longford need a point at Wexford to be sure they are not caught while Cabinteely look very vulnerable given the strength of their opponents, as well as a negative goal difference which means even a draw is unlikely to be enough to prevent them slipping back a place or two. In the event that things go badly for two from Longford, Cabinteely and Galway, meanwhile, Cobh could catapult themselves into the playoffs by beating Shamrock Rovers II.

Confused? You should be and the pity of it all is that nobody will be in the various grounds to experience the particular agony, and in a couple of cases, ecstasy, that comes with fans watching one game while keeping tabs on others in the hope the stars just might end up aligning.

Fixtures (all 7.45pm kick-off): Athlone Town v Bray Wanderers, Cabinteely v Drogheda United, Cobh Ramblers v Shamrock Rovers II, Galway United v UCD, Wexford v Longford Town.

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