Sport

SSE Airtricity Premier Division invigorated by the prospect of title race as Shamrock Rovers stutter in the first half of the season

Derry City have been on a great run under new boss Ruaidhri Higgins but have yet to record a home win in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division this season while once-mighty Dundalk continue to struggle Picture Margaret McLaughlin
BY SEAMUS CRUDDEN

JUST when everyone thought there wouldn't be a title race and Shamrock Rovers would easily run away with the Premier Division, things are getting interesting in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division as the mid-season break takes place.

The Hoops, who lost midfield duo Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff at the end of the 2020 campaign, just aren't the same side as last year and have suffered two defeats and been unable to hit top form in a lot games. However, Stephen Bradley rightfully won't be pushing the panic button just yet, as they just sit a point behind leaders Sligo Rovers.

On the plus side for the Tallaght men has been the form of Danny Mandroiu. The midfielder has scored crucial goals and his form has been recognised by Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny who has brought him into his squad for the friendlies against Andorra and Hungary.

Ex-Dundalk midfielder Richie Towell will be added to their squad next month, after he joined the club from Salford City and Bradley will be hoping their injury problems from the first part of the season, will start to clear up.

Derry City manager Ruaidhri Higgins, like leaders Sligo Rovers, probably didn't want the mid-season break to take place now.

Both sides were in good form leading into the break, with the Candystripes really continuing to improve week by week, since his appointment in April.

With fans hoping to return to the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium for next week's clash against Bohemians, City will be hoping to get their first home success of the campaign next Friday night.

Derry's star man in the opening 14 games has been Dundalk loanee Will Patching. The Brandywell men have scored 14 goals with the midfielder being directly involved in 10 of those.

The one-time Manchester City starlet, who has scored four times and has had six assists this campaign, is likely to return to Oriel Park when his loan deal expires on July 1, although Higgins will do everything he can to try and keep the 22-year-old.

City's north-west neighbours Finn Harps, who in May had their first ever league success at the Brandywell thanks to Adam Foley's late winner, will be aiming to move up the table and possibly secure a European spot, but you'll never hear boss Ollie Horgan talk about European football.

Liam Buckley's Sligo side, who had an impressive 1-0 win at Tallaght, have moved nicely into top spot after securing five wins in a row prior to the break and they really have carried on their form from last season.

Experienced midfielder Greg Bolger, who joined from Shamrock Rovers, has played a major role in their form, while young goalkeeper Edward McGinty has also made a host of top saves, which have been game changers.

St Patrick's Athletic, who were top of the league in the opening few weeks have been a bit inconsistent but Chris Forrester looks to have found a new lease of life again. The surprise package of the season, however, has to be Drogheda United, who continue to mix it with the big boys.

Prior to their recent home loss to Derry, Tim Clancy's men had won their previous four games with young striker Mark Doyle their main man having scored seven goals, while veteran defender Dane Massey has also been superb since joining from Dundalk.

After suffering six league defeats already, Bohemians manager Keith Long will be disappointed by his side's start to the season and be hoping their econd half of the campaign is much better

The biggest disappointment this season so far has to be Dundalk. The Lilywhites, who have a massive squad and the biggest budget, currently sit in seventh spot having lost five times already.

Things off the field aren't much better as their entire back-room team from last season have all gone. Ex-Northern Ireland international Jim Magilton, who is currently the club's sporting director, is now in the hot-seat following the departure of Filippo Giovagnoli amid recent rumblings of the possibility of former Donegal manager Jim McGuinness being lined up to replace him.

Bottom side Waterford will be hoping that new boss Marc Bircham can add more experience to their squad during next month's transfer window, while fellow strugglers Longford Town, who after seeing off Derry on the opening night, haven't won since that game and will need to improve if they harbour any hopes of staying up.

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