Thursday 13 December 2018

Blank weekend will stiffen task ahead for League's lesser lights

A member of the Oriel Park ground staff clears snow from the pitch prior to Tuesday’s game between Dundalk and Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
A member of the Oriel Park ground staff clears snow from the pitch prior to Tuesday’s game between Dundalk and Limerick. Photo: Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

League of Ireland clubs are facing into a manic March after the abandonment of all fixtures scheduled for this weekend.

The FAI made an early call to react to Storm Emma and grim snow forecasts by postponing all matches that were pencilled in for tomorrow and Saturday.

It confirms that the opening of the renovated Brandywell has been delayed again. Derry City were due to kick off a new era at the ground with the visit of Dundalk, but the Monday, March 12 visit of Limerick will now function as the premiere.

The extra time might give Derry's authorities a helping hand on the preparation front as manager Kenny Shiels had voiced frustration at his side's inability to train there before the Dundalk match with the local council unable to sign off on access. They will now get a bit more breathing space.

However, the FAI's decision to reschedule all Premier Division fixtures for Bank Holiday Monday, March 19 means that a hectic schedule lies ahead for all ten top-flight sides.

equipped Five rounds of fixtures will be played out in the space of a fortnight starting from next Friday - March 9 - a round of games that includes the first league meeting of arch rivals Dundalk and Cork.

However, the full-time professional outfits should be equipped to cope with the logjam that will follow - it will ask more questions of the weaker Premier Division sides that are either part-time or working off smaller squads. Bohemians and Bray are also pencilled in for EA Sports Cup ties this coming Monday.

Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny has acknowledged that a gap in resources is the natural explanation for the heavy thrashings handed out in the league earlier this week.

Kenny's side hammered Limerick 8-0 on Tuesday night, a result that managed to surpass Shamrock Rovers' 6-0 drubbing of Bray Wanderers in Tallaght on Monday.

Dundalk and Rovers operate full-time squads, and they were able to rotate their options across a double-header weekend, whereas Bray are part-time and Limerick have a tighter budget and were only able to travel to Louth with six subs.

"I think it's just maybe some teams might struggle to cope with the games three days later," said Kenny.

"It would be hard to sustain that level of performances unless you are used to it.

"To be fair, Limerick were under-strength. They have a very good team, but they probably don't have the strength and depth with a couple of players missing."

Limerick boss Tommy Barrett did not want to make excuses for a scoreline which he conceded was "shocking and embarrassing".

Nevertheless, he does feel that the weaker sides in the 10-team top flight will be vulnerable if they start slowly against the dominant teams at the top of the division.

Regular European qualification has strengthened the positions of Cork and Dundalk, while Rovers have also benefited from that source.

Barrett admitted that he was envious of Dundalk's squad. With a 4-0 half-time lead, they were then able to spring a current Lithuanian international, Karolis Chvedukas, for a goalscoring debut.

"The European money adds a lot to it as well," says Barrett. "They can bring in lads from exotic places that we couldn't afford but in saying that, you still have to have pride in the jersey and go out there with a game-plan and stick to the game-plan and for one reason or another we didn't do that.

"I was worried before I came up there that they would click on the night and we know how good they can be. We had a bit of sickness in the camp, a couple of injuries, but I don't want to make excuses. They're just a really good side, they are a lot better than us.

"I saw a couple of managers speaking about the turnaround. I'm not so sure. It's no excuse for 8-0 anyway. You shouldn't be beaten by that."

There will be no respite for Limerick in the lively March calendar, though. In addition to that jaunt to Derry, they will face home matches against Cork and Shamrock Rovers in the space of a week. Barrett's problems are different from Kenny, who actually feels there are players from his dressing room who would benefit from more games after an interrupted start to the season.

Chvedukas missed Dundalk's opening pair of scoreless draws due to a flu bug and the break leading into the showdown with Cork at Oriel Park may not suit the Louth men as they are only finding their feet. By contrast, John Caulfield's Leesiders already have a settled look and a 100pc record to go with it.

At First Division level, the weekend break is particularly unwelcome for all involved with Drogheda and Finn Harps after their season-opener last Friday was scuppered by floodlight failure.

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