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Mahon: do or die time

ST PATS boss Pete Mahon admits that it really is do our die for his side and their ambitions of landing a first league title in 12 seasons tonight as they face up to Shamrock Rovers at Richmond Park.

The 2010 championship is certain to go to a Dublin club and is most likely to end up in the hands of Rovers, as the Hoops currently hold a seven-point lead over city rivals St Pats and Bohemians.

A Rovers win in tonight's Dublin derby in Inchicore will put Michael O'Neill's side within reach of the title and Hoops fans, starved of a trophy since 1994, will get their calendars out and wonder when exactly they can seal the title, maybe even with their visit to Bohemians next month.

So the challenge from Mahon to his young squad is to do what has not been done in the league since early May -- beat Rovers -- and make the title run-in an interesting one, with Pats playing a key role.

"This could be the defining game of our season. If we don't win here, the other games won't really count as far as winning the league is concerned," said Mahon.

"It's a must-win game for us. We can't afford to go 10 points behind them. If that happens, our league chances are gone for this year. It would be interesting to see how Rovers would cope if their lead was four points instead of 10.

"We're going to have to play well to beat them. It could be a bit like the All-Ireland hurling final last week -- Tipperary had to raise their game to beat Kilkenny and get the little breaks.

"Rovers have been getting a few breaks recently which the rest of us haven't got, and sometimes that's the difference between winning the league and not. By all accounts they didn't play well against Sligo last week and still won the game," added the Pats boss, who feels that the pressure for this derby is on the away side.

"Rovers are in a position where, if they want to make progress this season, they have to win the league -- they were second last year," said former Bohemians and UCD boss Mahon, in his first full season at Pats, having taken over from Jeff Kenna last term.

"I know they are in a great position, anyone in the league would give their right arm to be seven points ahead with eight games to go.

"People say that it's for Rovers to throw away, but I have a long memory. I can remember a time when Shelbourne were 13 points ahead of Bohemians but Ollie Cahill scored a goal on the last day of the season, Bohs beat Kilkenny and Bohs won the double that season, so it ain't over just yet.

"There's no pressure on us at all. We have improved on last season and that's what I said I wanted us to do. I wanted us to show improvement. I know people can say, 'that wouldn't be hard' given where we were in the league last season, but my goal at the start of the season was to improve on last year and try and win the FAI Cup because that's what everyone here wants.

"I will still be looking to win the league and if that fails, then I want us to at least qualify for Europe and that will be progress for us."

September 2010 has a vastly different complexion for Pats compared to 12 months ago. This time last year Kenna had just resigned -- his last league game was a 1-0 defeat to Rovers -- and Mahon took over the relegation-threatened side soon after, Maurice O'Driscoll filling in as caretaker in the meantime, and Mahon today recalled the chaos that reigned at the time.

"We have had two must-win games since I came to the club last year. The first was against Shamrock Rovers on the last day of the season, when we needed to win to make sure of staying up, we had to beat Rovers, and here we are, a year on with another must-win game against them," he says.

"This is a nicer place to be than where we were 12 months ago. We want to try and stay second in the league as we have been in the top two all season and I don't want that to fall away now.

"Being perfectly honest, at the start of the season I didn't think we would be in this position but the players have done really well for us, and they have a great opportunity now.

"We'll have a good crowd here, a good atmosphere. It's live on TV, and we have never let ourselves down when there's a big crowd here so we're really looking forward to the game.

"When Rovers beat us earlier this season, in the second round of games, Michael O'Neill said that it was probably their best performance of the season, but to me their second goal was offside. And when they beat us in Tallaght in the third series of games, that was controversial as well.

"So to me there has been nothing between the two teams, we have more than matched them and I'd expect nothing less tonight.

"You have to give credit where it's due. They did have a bad start to the season but have had a great run since and they are the form team of the league. They didn't let the distraction of Europe affect their league form in any way, they have been very consistent.

"Whether or not they have a blip remains to be seen. No team goes though a season without having a blip and maybe the Rovers' one was at the start of the season.

"But there are a few games left and it will be interesting to see how they'd deal with a four-point lead instead of a 10-point lead, there is a bit of pressure there."

ST PATRICK'S ATHLETIC v SHAMROCK RVS,

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