Play-off pressure rises as uncertainty shrouds First Division
AN uncertain fate awaits the loser of this week's promotion/ relegation play-off, with a lack of clarity about the make-up of next season's First Division.
Monaghan United and Galway United meet at Gortakeegan tonight (7.45) in the first leg of their 180-minute showdown, with the return leg set for Terryland Park on Friday.
However, with suggestions that the 2012 First Division might be regionalised, and murmurs about the intentions of some existing teams, the cost of missing out could be quite significant.
And we have the slightly unusual situation where the team from the second tier is the firm favourite to come out on top and guarantee Premier Division football.
Roddy Collins' Monaghan side performed strongly throughout a competitive campaign to finish third behind Cork City and Shelbourne, missing out by just a point and finishing a further point ahead of a talented Limerick side.
Galway, on the other hand, finished rock-bottom of the Premier Division, with just six points to show from their season. They ended up 19 points behind second-from-bottom Drogheda, and 28 behind third-from-bottom UCD. Momentum is an alien word to Jumbo Brennan's men.
They performed well in parts of Friday's 4-0 loss to champions Shamrock Rovers but, ultimately, they were outclassed -- a familiar theme.
Monaghan concluded their campaign by knocking in five goals against a depleted Athlone side.
With in-form striker Declan 'Fabio' O'Brien in their ranks, they have Premier quality that would be the envy of the opposition.
Nevertheless, Brennan is stressing the positives, and feels that he has progressed things along since taking over from Sean Connor.
In reality, the Tribesman have been gearing up for these games for a long time.
"We have got to get ourselves in order," says Brennan. "It's a cup final, so anything can happen. It's going to be a very hard game because Monaghan are a good side."
Meanwhile, Collins has called on his men to repeat the levels they reached in winning five of their final six games.
"We will need to replicate that in both these legs," he says. "It would be a great achievement to join Cork and Shelbourne in the Premier Division and after the season we had, it would be well earned."
Monaghan's success in Athlone came at a price, with Keith Quinn suspended after receiving a red card for a rash tackle.
John Reilly is also banned, while Collins has doubts over the availability of both Sean and Ryan Brennan, in addition to key defender Aidan Collins.
Sean Kelly and Rory Gartlan are both suspended for the Tribesmen, while Gary Kelly, Mikey Gilmore, Eric Holland and John Egan are injury concerns.