Shamrock Rovers v Finn Harps, Tallaght Stadium, Friday, 7.45pm – Live on RTÉ 2
Shamrock Rovers will extend their record of League of Ireland titles to 19 with victory over Finn Harps at Tallaght stadium on Friday night but the future of head coach Stephen Bradley is set to keep the Hoops in the news throughout the winter off-season.
“We’ll see,” Bradley replied to Virgin Media when asked about his future. “Football is a strange game. I could stand here and say I want to manage x, y and z and in four weeks time I could be sacked.”
The 36-year-old has another year to run on his current contract but such a non-committal answer, 24 hours before Rovers are expected to capture a second title since he was appointed in November 2016, leaves the club’s short-term future open to speculation.
“That’s football. You got to stay focused. You got to stay hungry. And you got to enjoy where you are in the moment. Right now, I am really enjoying managing this football club, it is an honour, a privilege to do so. I have no plans to do anything.”
If Rovers lose or draw with Harps and St Patrick’s Athletic win at Longford Town the coronation could be postponed until they visit Waterford next Friday or they might secure the title at Dalymount Park on November 12th, without any supporters as Bohemians have banned them from attending due to a tit-for-tat public spat between the Dublin rivals.
“Hopefully, we can sell Tallaght out now that we are back with no restrictions which would be brilliant,” said Bradley. “Get 7,500 in there and let us do our business on the pitch to make it a really nice occasion.”
Rovers have dominated the title race, with St Pat’s and Sligo Rovers holding pace for the first half of the season before the semi-professionals struggled to compete with the only fully professional club in the country.
Bohs, who knocked Rovers out of the FAI Cup, and face St Pat's in a novel final at the Aviva stadium on November 28th, are the only team with more goals than the champions elect – 20 of their 51 scored by Georgie Kelly – but the north Dubliners have conceded 40 to Rovers' impressive 23.
The difference between Rovers and the rest of the league is squad depth, and some smart recruitment to replace Jack Byrne, the league's supreme midfielder, last year with Danny Mandroiu and Richie Towell, while Liam Scales's recent move to Glasgow Celtic was covered by former Ipswich wing back Barry Cotter making an instant impact.
Arguably, they do not need a prolific striker like Kelly as the spread of scorers has been a hallmark of their campaign. Lone striker Rory Gaffney has eight goals along with strong contributions from Mandroiu (10), Graham Burke (9) and Aaron Greene (6).
Really though, this season will be remembered for the collapse of Dundalk, and how they continue to be controlled by American owners Peak6. European football disappeared for the Co Louth side when they were knocked out of the cup by St Pat’s last Friday and a repeat loss on Monday leaves the 2018 and 2019 Airtricity League champions open to relegation.
Peak6 founder Matt Hulsizer, whose father Bill Hulsizer is Dundalk chairman, has already speculated about cutting ties with the club as the American investors switch focus to their minority share of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Dundalk needs a result tonight at home to Derry City to avoid the slide into a relegation playoff against Galway United.
"I can't be the spokesman for Dundalk Football Club every day so maybe them questions need to be put towards the club," said Vinny Perth this week, who as head coach is literally the club spokesman. "All I do is represent the team at the moment and anything around staff and different bits and pieces I think needs to be aimed at the club."
As much as Rovers are standard bearers for domestic Irish football, Dundalk reflects the perilous state of League of Ireland clubs.
Friday’s Premier Division fixtures (7.45pm unless stated)
Longford Town v St Patrick's Athletic, 7.30
Derry City v Bohemians
Dundalk v Waterford
Shamrock Rovers v Finn Harps
Sligo Rovers v Drogheda United