Dundalk leading others a merry dance
Published 31/07/2015 | 02:30
There may be over a third of the League of Ireland season still to run but already there are fears that it could be over.
With Dundalk seemingly unstoppable - after 20 games they have dropped points in only four fixtures - scrutiny is passing from them to the chasing pack, and in particular on to Cork, their closest challengers.
City have had their share of criticism this year, even though they have lost just once and their haul of 45 points from 20 league games is just one point short of what they managed in the whole of 2013 - the season prior to John Caulfield's arrival.
Despite reviving a club that was going nowhere, Caulfield has continued to defy the odds and yet has continued to receive a bizarre amount of criticism.
"It's laughable really," said former City Declan Daly, who soldiered alongside Caulfield in the trenches for over a decade in the 1980s and '90s.
"The team has improved immeasurably under John. They have been tremendous this year and the thing is they are second, not out of their own mistakes, but because Dundalk have been absolutely superb.
"In any other year, Cork would be running away with the league given the number of points they have accumulated."
Yet this isn't any other year. This season has seen an invisible line drawn between the top five sides, who have been excellent, and the bottom seven, who have been awful.
Thus far a general trend has evolved, whereby the top five routinely beat the also-rans, give or take the odd exception.
The determining factor putting Dundalk ahead of the pack by six points have been their results against the other members of the five-team elite: from seven fixtures against Cork, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and St Pat's, they have collected 14 points - an average of two points per game.
In contrast, Cork don't even average one point per game from their meetings with the other title contenders, having lost to Dundalk at Turner's Cross, while drawing with Rovers on two occasions, St Pat's, Bohs and Dundalk in last Sunday's meeting in Oriel Park.
Clearly, this issue needs addressing, particularly when it is remembered how they narrowly lost last year's title race on the back of three straight defeats to Dundalk, the eventual champions.
For Rovers, seven games against top-five opposition in 2015 have brought them just one victory, the opening-day win over Pat's.
Similarly, Pat's and Bohemians have posted a return of eight points from seven matches within this mini-league, each of them suffering at the hands of Dundalk, although Bohemians avenged their early-season loss to beat the defending champions at Oriel Park six weeks ago.