Little at stake as league winds down
Published 28/10/2016 | 02:30
The big finale? Not quite. Dundalk's efficiency, Longford's inadequacy and the tying up of loose ends around Europe and the relegation play-off means there is nothing stake in tonight's concluding round of the 2016 League of Ireland Premier Division.
It's the meeting of Drogheda and Cobh at United Park in the second leg of their First Division promotion play-off that has the most at stake but the Louth men are firmly in control with a two-goal lead from an eventful trip to Cork.
If they succeed in getting the job done, they face two matches with Wexford Youths starting from Monday. With that date in mind, Wexford have no incentive to stretch themselves in Sligo this evening although after his midweek outburst, home boss Dave Robertson will presumably be disgusted if the visitors field a weakened team.
Half of tonight's fixtures will be affected by events coming down the tracks. Dundalk receive the trophy after they lock horns with Galway United at Oriel Park, but Stephen Kenny will keep some of his tired stars out of the firing line.
They have next week's unusual double-header with Zenit St Petersburg (Europa League) and Cork City (FAI Cup) on the mind.
Cork are also firmly focused on that Aviva Stadium encounter - a chance to secure a tangible reward from a season of progress - and John Caulfield will look at his squad options at Bray with a view to increasing competition for places.
"This year's team is a phenomenal team," he said yesterday. "We have scored more goals than in the previous two and we have kept 21 clean sheets in the league so far, but unfortunately for us, it did not get us the league. There are a lot of positives but, as I keep saying, the bottom line is that people want silverware; that's what we are here for. We are working very hard to get there and we have an opportunity next week."
Elsewhere, pride and contracts are at stake as teams jostle for mid-table positions that will make no dent on their club's finances. This is the start of a long winter break and, while the 2017 campaign is expected to kick off at the end of February as opposed to the beginning of March, the majority of players in action this evening will be out of work until January even if they agree deals before then.
For struggling clubs reliant on gate income, the absence of final-day drama removes the possibility of one last pay-day before Christmas. Reality bites tomorrow.