O'Neill looks for 'a good cushion'
THE Airtricity League trophy might not be leaving the Tallaght Stadium cabinet to be re-presented to Shamrock Rovers tonight, but by 8.55 we will have a decent idea of where it will spend next season.
The equation is simple for the Hoops -- avoid defeat and the title's destiny remains in their own hands. Win and they only need three points from their remaining games against UCD and Galway United. Draw and six could be required.
Michael O'Neill will publicly warn against complacency, but considering they have put 23 goals past the pair in their six league games to date, the run-in could not be kinder.
Victory would also allow the Hoops to relax ahead of next week's Europa League trip to Greece to face PAOK Salonika, safe in the knowledge that their affairs at home are in order. Defeat, however, would blow the title race wide open.
Derry City make the trip south with a similar situation on their hands. If they win all of their four remaining games, they win the league.
It's a task easier said than done. If they beat Rovers, Stephen Kenny's men should collect three points against Galway on Sunday, before visiting St Patrick's Athletic and hosting Bohemians in their last two games, neither of which can be considered straightforward.
This is the fourth meeting of these two this season and Derry have yet to lose to the champions.
The last time they met in Tallaght resulted in a bitter row that saw Chris Turner banned for three matches for offensive behaviour towards City's goalscorer Eamon Zayed and the fallout lingered long after the incident, with neither side happy with the outcome.
Derry took their sense of injustice into their next clash with the Hoops at the Brandywell in early July -- when an Alan Mannus blunder cost Rovers dear and fuelled the Foylesiders' belief that they really could win the league in their first season back in the Premier Division.
Much has changed at Rovers since that shaky summer period and with European football now a regular visitor to south-west Dublin, the players know that if they want to revisit the highs they need to retain their domestic title.
For all of their big European nights, O'Neill -- who is being heavily linked with the vacant Northern Ireland job -- knows that success at home is key to further European glory.
Having battled past Bray Wanderers on Sunday, he wants to use the home advantage to its fullest.
"This is a huge game for us, for both sides really," he said. "A win would give us a good cushion at the top of the league and that will be our aim going into the game.
"The lads did very well to get the win on Sunday and they will need to do the same against Derry. It's sure to be a tight game and we'll need to work hard.
"But the players are very much up for that and are looking forward to the game. It'll be important to have a good crowd on the night and that the crowd get behind the team for the full 90 minutes.
"We have to use the benefit of this game being in Tallaght."
Knowing his team have to win, Derry boss Kenny will set them up to attack their hosts from the off. The Dubliner is not talking titles yet, but he knows the importance of victory.
"The Rovers match is not a league title decider, but it's a tremendous opportunity for us to remain in the race and attempt to achieve something that has never been achieved before," he said.
"We have ambition and we'll be taking that to Tallaght. We can't afford to be cautious, we've got to try to win the game."
Shamrock Rovers v Derry City, Live, RTE2, 7.05