By Ed Leahy
The May Bank Holiday proved to be a very long weekend for the Airtricity League’s finest with two rounds of games taking place between Friday and Tuesday night.
Sligo Rovers got their league campaign back on track with four very valuable points earned against Derry City and Shamrock Rovers, while St Pat’s were the only side to take all six points from their two games as Liam Buckley’s side defeated Cork City and Drogheda United with both victories coming on the road.
The sun shone on Shamrock Rovers over the weekend as the Hoops grabbed a late equaliser against the champions before ending Dundalk’s 100 per cent away record with a win on Monday night at Tallaght Stadium.
Have Croly’s Rovers finally turned the corner? They will need eight or nine wins in this series of games to get back in touch at the top.
Team of the Week
Conor O’Donnell (UCD) Making his Airtricity League debut, O’Donnell didn’t look out of place as the last man in the defensive unit that kept a clean sheet against Bohs on Tuesday night. He commanded his area with authority and even made a couple of forays outside when required to snuff out attacks. Made a series of second-half saves that earned all the points for the Students.
Evan McMillan (Sligo Rovers) The towering centre-half was superb at the heart of Sligo's defence on Friday night against Shamrock Rovers.
McMillan blocked several goalbound efforts and won most of his aerial duels against Karl Sheppard. Shamrock Rovers had more of the ball but McMillan, and centre-half partner Gavin Peers, coped with almost everything that came their way and were only denied a clean sheet by Sheppard's late, late strike.
Jason McGuinness (Shamrock Rovers) It was a welcome return to the Shamrock Rovers starting line-up for the former Sligo centre-half, who was comfortable in possession and kept top scorer Anthony Elding quiet for much of the night.
If Elding thought that life in the League of Ireland was easy scoring almost every week, the bustling centre-forward was given a torrid time by both McGuinness and Derek Foran and his frustration showed as he finished the game early after receiving a straight red card. McGuinness and the equally impressive Foran kept a clean sheet against an impressive Dundalk on Monday night.
David O’Connor (UCD) The UCD captain led by example as the Students claimed only their second win of the campaign.
O’Conor marshalled a defensive unit, with a debutant in goals and two full-backs who attacked when required without shirking their defensive duties, with authority. It wasn’t glamorous work but it was effective.
Danny Ledwith (Shamrock Rovers) Starting to look very comfortable in the green and white hoops, the former UCD man (above right) is very assured on the ball and is fond of a foray or two into the opposition territory. Nearly scored a screamer for Rovers on Monday night as his right-footed effort cannoned off the post
Keith Ward (Dundalk) Much of what was good about Dundalk’s second-half performance against Bray Wanderers emanated from Ward (below left).
His creativity in midfield ensured that the visitors dominated for much of the second period. Controlling the match, he linked up well, particularly with Dane Massey on the left hand side and Pat Hoban up front. Also impressed in a very tough midfield battle with the Shamrock Rovers trio on Monday night.
Stephen Rice (Shamrock Rovers) Successive Shamrock Rovers managers have attempted to build a team without the industrious Stephen Rice. But they have all been proved wrong and Rice, the heartbeat of Shamrock Rovers, has invariable worked his way back into the team.
The hard-working midfielder put in another energetic shift in the centre of the pitch on Friday night as the Hoops dominated the champions, as Sligo were harassed at every turn. Rice again stole the show on Monday night putting on a magnificent performance against Dundalk, with an excellent showing from midfielder partner James Chambers as well in the 1-0 victory. Rice almost capped off the perfect night with a goal but dragged his shot wide.
Dave O'Leary (Limerick) O’Leary had a fine game in midfield for Limerick as they beat Cork 3-2 at Turner’s Cross.
The midfielder provided the two free kicks into the Cork penalty area which created both of Limerick's first half goals, before scoring the winner to secure the points for Limerick as they continue to impress in their maiden season since promotion.
John Russell (St Patrick's Athletic) Apart from scoring an excellent goal, John Russell also put in a great performance in midfield as St Pat’s beat Cork City at Turner’s Cross on Friday night, linking play and stopping City from gaining any momentum. Russell and midfield partner Killian Brennan pulled the strings and helped ensure City's poor performance. Saints followed up their trip to Cork with victory in Drogheda and were momentarily joint top of the table for a few hours. Buckley’s side look like they will be in the mix again this season.
David Cawley (Sligo Rovers) The 21-year-old Mayo man scored for the second league game in a row on Monday afternoon against Derry.
Cawley was one of the young stars of last year's Airtricity League and showed his worth to Ian Baraclough's side on Monday afternoon, chipping in with a well taken goal in the 54th minute to go along with his strike against Shamrock Rovers three nights previous. Josephy Ndo is also looking like he is returning to form with an impressive performance against Derry although he made little impact against Shamrock Rovers on Friday night.
Anto Flood (St Patrick's Athletic) Anto Flood led the line brilliantly for St Pat's in their victory against Cork City, working very hard to harry defenders and he scored a good goal and provided a deft assist.
His size and speed gave Cork City's centre-backs a tough evening. Flood’s influence this season has been one of the main differences between this year’s Saints side and last year’s and could see the Inchicore men last the pace this year. Honourable mentions this week to young centre forwards Danny Morrissey from Cork City and Bray Wanderers’ Ismahil Akinade.