BRENDAN Clarke admits that he's baffled by the poor form from his St Patrick's Athletic side which has seen the Saints exit the league title race before the half-way point of the season.
Last season's FAI Cup final triumph meant a lot to Saints fans and players, and life-long Pats fan Clarke falls into both camps, but the FAI Cup has added importance to the club in 2015 as they are already so far off the pace in the league that only a Dundalk collapse and a Saints miracle will see them bridge that 16-point gap between the clubs from Richmond Park and Oriel Park.
Clarke is keen to play down talk that the Saints' season will be over if they lose to Shamrock Rovers in tonight's FAI Cup tie, as they still have a Europa League campaign to deal with, not to mention the task of securing European football for next year.
"There's a lot to play for so I don't accept that our season's finished if we do lose here," he says. "I know it's unlikely we will make the Champions League for next season but we can make sure we stay in the hunt for European places in the league, and try to retain the FAI Cup as well.
"But we do need to improve and I can't explain why it's been so disappointing. Our performances have been poor. Sometimes you don't get a result that you deserve, you can play well in a game and still lose if a decision goes against you, but we have just not been good enough in the league," added Clarke.
"The quality is there in training, you see that every day, but we don't seem to be able to bring that into the game on a Friday night."
A Cup run is also key for Rovers and Clarke expects a tight game.
"There's been nothing between the sides this season, one moment won the game for them in Tallaght in March and we had a 0-0 draw recently. It will be tight but we're holders and we want to stay in the competition," he added.