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Alan Cawley believes Drogheda United will not last the pace in the title race but there is a new pressure on leaders Sligo Rovers

Updated: Thursday, 02 Aug 2012 11:58

Drogheda have been the surprise package in this year's campaign
Drogheda have been the surprise package in this year's campaign

This weekend’s sees the top two sides in the Airtricity Premier Division clash and while many people expected Sligo Rovers to be in a leading position, few predicted it would be Drogheda United playing chase in the title race.

Read why Alan Cawley feels St Patrick's Athletic have hope against Hannover on Thursday night

Drogheda are up there on merit with Mick Cooke somehow masterminding a title charge that looked impossible at the start of the season. Now it has now turned into a very realistic possibility.

Cooke deserves every single one of the plaudits received so far because what he has achieved has been nothing short of miraculous.

Can they go on and claim one of the most unlikely league wins ever in the League of Ireland? I hate to burst their bubble but it isn’t going to happen.

My theory on Drogheda United being so high up the table is that it is a reflection of how things have changed in the Airtricity League.

The league has certainly come down a notch or two from where it was just five or six years ago with so many good players leaving and a lot less quality young guys emerging this year.

When you think back to the squad Paul Doolin assembled that was so successful and won the title just a few years ago and compare to this team, the difference is enormous.

Fabio O’Brien was part of all that success, one of the few still tied with the club from that era, and he is currently rolling back the years and scoring goals.

However I'm sure if you were to ask him which team was better, it would not take much consideration.

You also have to factor in that Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic are underachieving because with the players at their disposal, they should be miles ahead of Drogheda.

The fact that there are just these four teams as potential league winners also speaks volumes of where we find ourselves because when the Airtricity League was at its peak there were up to six teams in the hunt.

Having said all of this, Drogheda will go into Saturday night’s game in the Showgrounds with a huge chance of going top.

There might not have an abundance of quality in their squad but they certainly make up for it in effort, hard work and togetherness and there is a lot to be said for those characteristics, and possibly it is the reason behind some club’s poor campaigns so far.

They have an excellent leader in Alan McNally who is a top professional. The Brennan brothers are some of the best players in the league and with the wily old fox Fabio up front you always have a chance.

While I don't think they will win the league, if Mick Cooke was to lead this team to European football and maybe a trophy, he would be number one candidate for manager of the year.

Sligo Rovers on the other hand go into this game with a cloud hanging over them for the first time this season.

The Bit o’ Red have just been knocked out of Europe and they were then hit with the bombshell that Danny North is set to miss the rest of the season.

North has been on fire all season and to lose your top marksmen when entering the business end of the season must be giving Ian Baraclough a few sleepless nights.

North is so far ahead of any other Sligo players in the goal scoring chart that it makes the loss all the more worrying.

It is now up to Mark Quigley and Raffaele Cretaro to step up to the plate and try to fire Sligo to glory.

Quigley is one of the best players in the league but with a few rumblings that he has not settled in Sligo and indeed interest from Shamrock Rovers in the transfer window, it will be interesting to see the impact he has from here until the end of the season.

Truthfully he hasn’t really cut it in Sligo and for a player of his talent it is real shame.

This is, without a shadow of a doubt, Sligo Rovers’ best chance to win the league after a long wait and for Quigley he can become the man to make it happen.

But with prospect comes pressure on Ian Baraclough’s side and that can affect people in different ways.

The game Saturday night will not decide the league but it may go a long way in telling us where its destination may be.

With the opening of a new stand in the Showgrounds and a weekend fixture there should be big support for both teams and everyone will be hoping they are watching the future Airtricity League champions.

Until next week,

Alan