By Ed Leahy
Shamrock Rovers will be looking to record their first league win of the season when they entertain St Patrick’s Athletic at Tallaght Stadium, kick-off 7.35pm.
New boss Trevor Croly has enjoyed a positive start to his reign at Rovers having guided his side through to the Setanta Sports Cup semi-finals with two-legged victories over Irish League sides Coleraine and Linfield.
And the former St Pat’s assistant manager appears to have instilled a renewed confidence in Rovers that was absent for the majority of last season, while a new central defensive partnership of Jason McGuinness and Derek Foran appears to have clicked straight away, with both players working well together and playing the ball out of defence.
Croly has rotated his large squad in the opening five fixtures, so his starting XI on Friday is likely to include several changes to the side that beat Linfield 3-1 in Windsor Park last Monday night, as the Hoops won 7-2 on aggregate.
Rovers opened their league campaign at Oriel Park on Friday night and played out a scoreless draw with former manager Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk.
It was a solid performance by Croly’s new-look Hoops who came up against a much-changed Dundalk side from the 2012 season and were given a stern test on a wet night at Oriel.
And while Croly would have taken a lot of positives from the league opener, Rovers failed to dominate the game and were well matched in midfield. Ciaran Kilduff worked hard up front but received poor service from the flanks and the centre of the park.
Croly may be tempted to use two-goal Windsor Park hero Tommy Stewart from the start against St Pat’s, while Mark Quigley, who has missed the last few games with a calf problem, remains a doubt.
New signing Danny Ledwith also impressed on Monday and has given the manager food for thought, while Ronan Finn should certainly get recalled, having started the Linfield game on the bench.
Captain Pat Sullivan suffered a slight neck injury in training, but is expected to be okay for the game.
Looking ahead to the game, Hoops boss Croly said: “The players are well up for the game against St Pat’s and I’m sure the fans are too. I expect a big crowd in Tallaght and the fans to be right behind the players during the game. We’ve had all big games so far, and this weekend sees more of the same; it should be a good match.”
Saints boss Liam Buckley comes up against his former assistant and believes the trip to Tallaght will be a challenge, but it is one that he is relishing.
Buckley said: "Games between the two sides are always very tense and entertaining games and it’s one of the games fans always look to when the league fixtures are announced.
"There are no easy game in this league, so naturally Friday’s game will be really tough, but hopefully we can produce a performance on the night and get a result for our fans on Friday who I know will be there supporting us in great numbers."
Dave Ryan remains out of contention with a hand injury and Stephen Maher is also ruled out through suspension, but otherwise, Buckley has a full squad available for selection.
St Pat’s opened their league campaign with victory over Drogheda United at Richmond Park in a performance that was largely inspired by new signing and former Shamrock Rovers midfielder Killian Brennan.
Brennan impressed, playing in a central midfield role, alongside former Sligo Rovers playmaker John Russell, while the Saints defence looks solid, once again, keeping a clean sheet against Mick Cooke’s side.
But one area that will cause concern for Buckley is in the goal-scoring department with the winner coming from midfield substitute Shane McFaul.
Saints have now played three competitive games this season, including two Setanta Cup fixtures against Glentoran, and have only scored one goal.
Rovers, on the other hand, scored seven against Linfield over two legs and look like they have the ability to grab goals from all areas of the park.
St Pat’s put five past Rovers in a televised clash at Richmond Park last season and while Rovers will be looking to avenge that result on their home patch, there won’t be four goals between the sides, yet the Hoops should edge it.
Verdict: Shamrock Rovers
Elsewhere, Cork City are also looking for their first league victory as they take on Bohemians in their opening home clash at Turner’s Cross (kick-off 7.45pm).
Tommy Dunne’s side survived a difficult trip to Thomond Park last Sunday in their league opener against Limerick and while it was not the best display by the Rebel Army, they earned a valuable away point, keeping a clean sheet in the process.
City have been widely tipped to push for a top-four place this season but will need Denis Behan and Daryl Kavanagh to start scoring goals and will be relying on big home crowds to make Turner’s Cross a League of Ireland fortress once again.
Brian Lenihan is ruled out for Cork, although John Dunleavy is back in contention, having missed a number of weeks with tonsillitis.
Lenihan has been sidelined with a groin problem for several months, but should be ready to return to light training in the near future.
City boss Tommy Dunne travelled to Dalymount to watch Bohemians beat UCD 2-1 last Friday night and he was impressed with Aaron Callaghan’s side.
Dunne said: “They are a decent team and we have always found it tough against them. We have to make sure we are up to the tempo of the game, and I think if we are, then we will be ok.
“This time of the year, it is more about grinding out results. People might not think it, but we had a good result in Limerick on Sunday. No excuses; we probably had the chances to win it, but we picked up a draw away from home at a tough venue against a tough team. If we can get a win on Friday, then it won’t have been a bad start.”
And Bohemians will travel to Cork confident of putting in a performance at The Cross after their victory over UCD last Friday.
Aaron Callaghan’s side appear to have a better blend of youth and experience this season, with veteran Owen Heary marshalling the back four and experienced keeper Dean Delany between the posts.
Defender Luke Byrne is set for a big season, while Ryan McEvoy in midfield will provide the creatively as well as adding a few spectacular goals this year. And Chris Lyons and Keith Devaney will be a handful for any defence after both players got on the scoresheet in the league opener.
Gypsies boss Callaghan is expecting a tough encounter in Cork. He said: “They’ve spent wisely, brought in a lot of players. They have quite a decent budget down there by all accounts and we’re expecting nothing but a tough game. I watched their draw [against Limerick] and I think it was pretty even. We’re looking forward to it now.”
Stephen Paisley has been ill over the past few days and may not travel, while Devaney is nursing a knock on his ankle and Dave Scully has a back strain.
Cork will be out to impress in front of their home fans and should have enough quality to take advantage of the fact that Bohs played on Monday night in the EA Cup in a game that was forced into extra time.
Verdict: Cork City
Drogheda United and Limerick go head to head at Hunky Dorys Park (kick-off 7.45pm) with both sides looking for their first league win of the season.
Mick Cooke’s side impressed in their pre-season, qualifying for the Setanta Sports Cup semi-finals, but failed to get off the mark in their league opener in Inchicore last Friday, losing to St Pat’s.
Gary O'Neill is struggling with an injury and is a doubt for Drogheda, while centre-half Alan McNally remains out for another four weeks at least while he recovers from his knee operation.
Derek Prendergast is also out with an ankle injury and Cathal Brady is missing with a calf strain.
And there are further injury worries for Drogheda boss Cooke as keeper Gabriel Sava is a doubt having picked up a groin strain in training.
Cooke said: “I have a few injuries going into the game, but this is what I have a big squad for. The lads know that whoever is picked will need to step up and prove themselves and if what they show in training translates on the pitch then we should be a match for anyone.
“I watched their 0-0 draw with Cork on Sunday and they are very formidable opposition. Stuart Taylor has them playing good football and they are going to challenge any team this season. There are no easy games in the Premier Division this year.”
Limerick will be looking to build on their impressive performance in their league opener at Thomond Park last Sunday.
Manager Stuart Taylor has assembled a strong squad and will travel to Drogheda confident of securing their opening league win of the season.
The tight pitch at Hunky Dorys Park will not suit the footballing Limerick side and they will have their work cut out for them to get anything from the game.
UCD and Derry City will both be looking to bounce back from opening day defeats when they meet at The UCD Bowl (kick-off 7.45pm).
The Students battled hard against Bohemians at Dalymount on Friday night and could have earned a point from the encounter had a harsh penalty decision not been given.
Martin Russell’s side are always a handful at home but will struggle against a quality Derry side who will feel unlucky not to have at least shared the spoils with champions Sligo Rovers at the Brandywell last Friday.
Skipper Mick Leahy (knee), Barry McCabe (groin) and Mark Langtry (suspended) are ruled out for UCD, while Derry will be without the services of Stewart Graecen (knee), Sean Houston (knee) and Paddy Kavanagh (hamstring).
Verdict: Derry City
In the final game of the night, Dundalk will be hoping to build on their impressive performance against Shamrock Rovers as they travel to Tolka Park to take on Shelbourne (kick-off 8.00pm).
Stephen Kenny’s new-look Dundalk were more than a match for the much-fancied Rovers at Oriel Park and will be confident of notching their first league win of the campaign against Shels.
The two sides met on Monday night in the EA Sports Cup and Kurtis Byrne’s goal was the difference between the two sides as Dundalk progressed.
Shels boss Alan Mathews was disappointed with the result in Bray last Friday night, losing 1-0, but was encouraged by the performance, especially after his side were reduced to ten men.
Paul Crowley received his marching orders in that game and will miss this game through suspension, while several other players are carrying injuries and will be assessed ahead of the game.
With the squad that Dundalk boss Kenny has put together this season, the Lilywhites should prove too strong for Mathews’ Shelbourne who still appear to be a work in progress.
Watch Shamrock Rovers take on St Patrick’s Athletic live on RTÉ Two and www.rte.ie from 7.30pm.