Half-term report reveals that Rovers 'can do better'
THERE'S no mid-term break in the world of the Airtricity League, the hectic fixture schedule wouldn't allow it.
Last weekend, the league marked its halfway point and quickly stumbled into another round of fixtures. The games have come so thick and so fast that it's been hard to draw a breath.
But what better time to reflect on the season so far and take stock of what has happened so far.
As expected, Shamrock Rovers lead the way, but despite their strength in depth, the champions have not been all-conquering and have yet to pull away from the field.
The decline of Bohemians and demise of Sporting Fingal has levelled things out, while the return of Derry City has added a dash of colour so missing from last season's events.
The Candystripes are one of a clutch of teams in a five-strong peloton behind the leaders.
The bottom three in the table are adrift of the rest, with Galway United on a one-way slide and UCD and Drogheda treading water above them.
Europe is a welcome distraction on the horizon, but as they take a look at their mid-term results, we issue a report card on the season so far.
1 SHAMROCK ROVERS
STRENGTHS: Rovers create plenty of chances in every game and while Gary Twigg has yet to fire on all cylinders, Billy Dennehy, Karl Sheppard and Ronan Finn have chipped in. The Hoops' squad is the envy of the league.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: They may be top of the table, but speak to Michael O'Neill and his Rovers players and there is a sense of frustration that they have yet to really kick into gear, and if they do, the league is theirs for the taking.
2 ST PATRICK'S ATHLETIC
STRENGTHS: After a poor start, Pete Mahon and his men got their act together in April and with their strikers Daryl Kavanagh and Danny North hitting form, they've gone 13 games unbeaten -- winning 10.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Mahon was disappointed that their season faded in rounds three and four last year and their coming schedule is tough, but the Richmond Park outfit look more resilient, especially with skipper Conor Kenna's return imminent.
3 DERRY CITY
STRENGTHS: Stephen Kenny's young squad have an eye for goal and have scored more than any other team this season. With 14 goals, Eamon Zayed is in the form of his life, while James McClean, Gareth McGlynn and Ruaidhri Higgins have been strong in support.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: The Brandywell is again the fortress of old, but if the Candystripes are to challenge for the league, they have to turn their draws into wins.
4 SLIGO ROVERS
STRENGTHS: Paul Cook's reputation has been built on his team's footballing style, but the Bit O'Red have been stingy in defence this year, giving up only 10 goals.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Sligo have yet to live up to their early promise and the parting of ways with general manager Packie Lynch suggested they may not be able to sustain their recent rise. The Bit O'Red are still in touch with the leaders, but the cups might be a better route to silverware.
5 BRAY WANDERERS
STRENGTHS: This season's success story, Bray only survived by virtue of an unlikely series of events in the relegation play-off last year, but have been excellent this campaign. The team is built around the superb Gary Dempsey, while Conor Murphy's goals have been key.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Not much, but with the relegation battle a long way away, Pat Devlin needs to focus the minds for a realistic tilt at the European spots.
STRENGTHS: Pat Fenlon's hastily assembled squad have been the epitome of hard work this season and youngsters like Stephen Traynor, Keith Buckley and Christopher Forrester have stepped up in big games. Owen Heary has been a rock at the back.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Goals and consistency have been hard to come by for a thin squad, reliant on some key men. Christy Fagan can come up with the goods if he stays fit up front, but this season is all about financial survival for the Gypsies.
STRENGTHS: Great to watch, the Lilywhite wingers Daniel Kearns and Ross Gaynor, combined with Mark Griffin, Mark Quigley and Jason Byrne up front, can cause problems for any defence.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Injuries haven't helped and Dundalk's Setanta Cup run kept them going for the first half of the season, but Ian Foster will be disappointed with being in seventh place. Europe is still a realistic goal if they can cut out the lapses like the defeat to Drogheda.
STRENGTHS: A good manager in Martin Russell and youth on their side, UCD started well and play a nice brand of football which has seen them match better equipped opponents this season.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: The Students' defence has been in tatters at times, shipping 42 goals and they can't compete with the more experienced campaigners. Seven straight defeats is a run they need to halt, but Russell has little room to strengthen in the summer and a survival dogfight looks likely.
9 DROGHEDA UNITED
STRENGTHS: Appointed so close to the season, Mick Cooke took a while to make his influence felt, but strikers Dinny Corcoran and Tiernan Mulvenna are finding their feet and scoring goals.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Drogheda need to keep doing what they're doing, three wins in the last five games means they are on an upward curve. Sure, they'll ship defeats to the big guns, but with Galway floundering, survival is a realistic aim.
10 GALWAY UNITED
STRENGTHS: Few and far between, they've lost their last 13 league games despite having some good, experienced players. Sean Connor sets them up well, but the individuals lack the ability at this level.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: With the squad on the transfer list, it's hard to see where the inspiration will come from. Alan Murphy's return from injury will be key, but the drop looks inevitable.