By Ed Leahy
Dundalk v Cork City
Either Dundalk’s unbeaten home record or Cork’s 100 per cent on-the-road success will come to an end at Oriel Park with the winners likely to lead the league table going into the weekend.
Only one point separates the top-four sides in the Premier Division with unbeaten Cork leading the way alongside St Pat’s with Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers one point off the pace.
This encounter brings the first round of games to a close, although Cork have a game in hand, and City fans will be both excited and a little surprised by their lofty position at this stage of the season.
But they are there on merit and have been rewarded for the passionate support that has returned to Turner’s Cross as the stadium is regaining its fortress status.
Whether or not City have the squad to remain in the hunt throughout the season remains to be seen but one man who is not getting carried away with the early season form is manager John Caufield.
Caulfield said: “We just take it week by week. Our season won’t be defined by one game; maybe teams are looking to be the first ones to turn us over, but all we can do is focus on what we are doing, work hard in training and just make sure that, on the night, we leave everything on the pitch. Money helps, but at the same time you have to have players with attitude and desire, and we have that in abundance.”
Caulfield does admit that his squad might be a few players shy of a title-challenging side and it has not helped that quality players, like injured pair Danny Morrissey and Michael Rafter, are watching from the stands.
Caulfield added: “We’ve done fantastically well, although I keep saying I would like if we had more choices; not that the injury situation has helped. At the start of the season we were saying we wanted to be in the top four; we are on track so far, but there is a long, long way to go.”
Darren Dennehy returns following suspension for City, but Darren Murphy remains sidelined with a hamstring injury. Morrissey remains out, however, the is striker expected to be back in full training next week, but Rafter remains sidelined for the foreseeable future.
Dundalk will badly miss the influence of injured midfielder Stephen O’Donnell and that has already been in evidence losing last weekend in Bray.
O’Donnell may return before the end of the season having undergone surgery on his knee injury but manager Stephen Kenny has a strong enough squad to deal with the midfielder’s absence.
But that strength in depth and squad rotation may have been partly responsible for that defeat in Bray, as John Mountney and Patrick Hoban were only used as second-half substitutes at the Carlisle Grounds.
Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny said: “There has been a lot of games in a short space of time but we’ve coped well with it. Cork City have had a great start to the season and are going well. We have had a great start ourselves. We’re flying and we’re right up there. We had a setback last week in Bray Wanderers but we’re confident of bouncing back from that.”
Both Mountney and Hoban should probably return to the starting XI for the visit of Cork and Daryl Horgan will also be looking to impress against his former club.
Throw the ever-impressive Richie Towell into the mix and you would have to imagine that it will be the Lilywhites atop the table by the end of the night with the Rebels heading home with their first defeat under their belts.
Shamrock Rovers v Limerick
Victory for Shamrock Rovers against Limerick could see Trevor Croly’s side top the table at the end of the night should there be a draw at Oriel Park.
The visitors have had a very mixed start to the season and Stuart Taylor’s side should really be higher in the league table with the squad that he has at his disposal.
Lack of goals is what is costing Limerick points as they have proved to be solid defensively and Taylor will be hoping striker Craig Curran can pass a fitness test ahead of the game.
Michael Leahy is also back in contention, although Danny Galbraith (hamstring) and Shaun Kelly (knee) remain out injured.
Rovers came through a run of difficult matches and have now enjoyed back to back league wins and will be looking to make that three in a row on their home patch.
Croly has some big selection issues ahead of the game with both Conor Kenna and Ronan Finn suspended, while Eamon Zayed is ruled out with a broken elbow.
But Croly has plenty of options and has also enjoyed the bonus of some young players making waves in the first team, most notably Sean Heaney, while others from the First Division side are also starting to make their way into the manager’s thoughts.
Stephen McPhail is a doubt as he is struggling with a back injury, but should he be passed fit, expect the home side to take the spoils.
Verdict: Shamrock Rovers
UCD v Drogheda United
Drogheda’s great start to the season has come undone in the past few weeks and they will be looking to get back on the winning trail at UCD.
Robbie Horgan’s side have lost four league matches in a row and have conceded 12 goals in that dismal run.
Drogheda showed signs of improvement against Shamrock Rovers last weekend but could not grab an equalising goal as the game finished 3-2.
Eric Foley and Michéal Schlingermann are missing again and Horgan needs his trio of Gavin Brennan, Gary O’Neill and Declan O’Brien to shine if they are to get back to winning ways.
UCD will take huge encouragement from the last two outings, grabbing a point in Derry thanks to Robbie Benson’s wonder strike and just losing out 1-0 to league leaders Cork City, since their 5-0 hammering in Sligo.
And manager Aaron Callaghan must be happy with how things are progressing in his first season in charge and he will no doubt go into the second round of games in much better stead than the first set.
The UCD boss will work with the same squad from the Brandywell and may see Ian Ryan come back into contention.
And Callaghan will be emphasising that a similar performance can see his Students finish this first trimester with a home win.
Bohemians v Derry City
Roddy Collins brings his Derry City side back to his old stomping ground as the Candystripes take on Bohemians at Dalymount Park.
The former Bohs boss is a bit of a local hero in these parts but victory for his old boys will do nothing for Collins’ City credentials as his side have failed to ignite this season.
Three draws and a narrow victory over basement boys Athlone Town in City’s last four league games have shone the spotlight on Collins’ first season in charge at the Brandywell, while Rory Patterson’s omission from the squad has also left many scratching their heads as last year’s league top scorer was sent off to play for the reserves.
Rory Patterson in action for Derry City Res against Drumkeen Utd in this evening's USL game pic.twitter.com/HUSARCAVxe— thejungleview (@thejungleview) April 25, 2014
Bohs will aim to seize on this City slump and manager Owen Heary certainly saw plenty to be happy with down in Cork last weekend as the Gypsies held the league leaders at Turner’s Cross.
That point came off the back of three straight defeats, losing to Sligo, St Pat’s and Limerick, so Heary will be looking for maximum points back on home turf.
Striker Dinny Corcoran is available, which is great news for the Bohs boss and new signing Eoin Wearen may be cleared to play. The former West Ham man can slot in the centre of midfield or play in defence, which will give Heary plenty of options in both departments.
Corcoran’s return to a side that should contain Paddy Kavanagh, Dave Mulcahy, Ryan McEvoy and the always dangerous Jason Byrne should see the home side take all three points.
Athlone Town v Bray Wanderers
Without a point in their opening ten games, Athlone Town have endured a nightmare return to the league’s top division.
Manager Mick Cooke departed during the week and now Keith Long has been left with the unenviable task of taking Town out of their early season slump.
Long’s first challenge is to face his old side Bray Wanderers who have been quite impressive this season under the tutelage of Alan Mathews.
Aidan Collins and Neil Harney remain out injured for Athlone, however, Sean Byrne, Philly Gorman and James O’Brien should all return for the visit of Bray.
Wanderers will be on a high after beating the much-fancied Dundalk last weekend but will be cautious heading down to play Athlone, where players will be out to impress the new boss.
Bray skipper Danny O’Connor, Jake Kelly, Shane O’Connor and Shane Byrne remain out of contention for the trip to the midlands.
Alan Mathews and the Bray supporters must be delighted with the way things are going this season, however, this trip may not yield the expected victory.