Shamrock Rovers are 27 points behind Premier Division leaders Dundalk with eight matches left to play. They face Stephen Kenny’s team in the league on Tuesday night.
If the Lilywhites win their 14th league match in a row, they’ll move 30 points ahead of Stephen Bradley’s team.
Since losing to Waterford on 4 May, they have won 13 matches in a row, three more points on Tuesday would move them six ahead of Cork and put the chance of regaining their league title more than firmly in their own hands.
Dundalk have beaten the Hoops twice already in the league this season.
Following a number of positive results in the league and in Sweden, Rovers have once again frustrating their fans and manager with poor results.
Their recent FAI Cup exit to First Division side Drogheda United followed by their derby loss to Bohemians are not acceptable to the fans, a number of whom have expressed their displeasure with the direction of the first-team and the head coach Bradley after a number of games in recent weeks.
The current first-team squad is not strong enough to compete with the quality that Dundalk and Cork possess
So what’s going wrong?
The current first-team squad that Bradley has at his disposal is not strong enough to compete with the quality that Dundalk and Cork possess.
For a club with such huge expectations, they have not competed sufficiently in the last number of seasons.
Early exits from the FAI Cup, notable gaps between them and the league champions, as well as quiet European campaigns have left everyone associated with the club frustrated.
Their academy is growing quickly and will be one of the best in the country for years to come but that is not something that will give any comfort to the unhappy fans at the moment.
Rovers U15s, U17s and U19s are all top of their leagues and that is something to be proud about.
The work being done at underage level and the development of their facility at Roadstone is not only ambitious, but also already bearing fruit, with the impressive debuts of Manchester City bound goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu and teenage midfielder Aaron Bolger. Another teen, Brandon Kavanagh, has progressed from the U19s but did spend a couple of seasons at Bohemians before that.
If the reports are to be believed, 16-year-old ‘keeper Bazunu will move to the UK for €400,000, Graham Burke joined Preston for €350,000 and they’ll also be due another €200,000 for playing in the Europa League first qualifying round this season.
That’s almost €1 million.
How much of that the club will be put into the first team budget, for wages and signings, and how much they will spend on the Academy remains to be seen.
If Rovers are to be considered serious title contenders next season, it goes without saying that both Bradley and director of football Stephen McPhail will require chunk of the profits from their transfers invested into the first-team.
Bradley is an excellent young coach while McPhail, who handles most of the player signings and negotiations, has a huge history in the game. Coach Glenn Cronin played at a decent level too, but as Alan Cawley pointed out on Soccer Republic this week, all lack experience in their current roles.
It may be a case that they need a more experienced head to come in and guide them.
Football is indeed won or lost by the players and it is obvious that few at Rovers have performed to a high standard on a consistent basis.
Signings like Sean Kavanagh, Dylan Watts and the return of Alan Mannus, with the promotion of the likes of Trevor Clarke (currently injured) and other talented young players, have helped raise the bar in the squad, but they need more proven top quality players in their team in order to ensure there is consistency.
The future looks bright and the work the academy is doing is making great strides. However if the first-team is to start competing for trophies in the short-term, it is going to require substantial investment.