Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley believes that proper football will only return after the gates are finally opened to supporters this evening following a painful absence.
Their fixture at home to Finn Harps is one of a number of test events selected ahead a wider reopening of society, with 1,000 lucky fans permitted to attend tonight’s game. Rovers will play in front of the public for the first time since a 3-2 win away to Sligo Rovers last year, a 66-week gap.
Other Premier Division clubs will have 100 fans admitted to games this evening, as the league resumes after a mid-season break. But Rovers, due to the ground’s seated capacity, were given permission, along with Cork City for their match at home to Shelbourne, to bring in more.
Rovers will use all three stands of their Tallaght Stadium home to accommodate the fortunate ticket holders, drawn from their 600-stong club membership and 400 season-ticket holders.
It will be a new experience for attendees, with no food or drinks available, assigned seating and compulsory mask-wearing, but Bradley is just glad to see people back in the ground again.
“It’s not real football without the fans, that energy and passion that they bring,” he says.
“Thankfully, tonight we get to taste that again. It’s been a strange, strange time, not having them there. We’re just looking forward to having them back.
“To be fair to the club, I think they have been fantastic in terms of communication with the fans, I don’t think they could have done much more
“I don’t think we’ll have an issue in getting our fans back. If anything, I think we’ll attract more and some newer fans, because of some of the great work that was done off the field when the fans were not allowed in.”
The Rovers squad has been stretched by injury, and with Richie Towell ineligible until next month, the Hoops will have to cope.
Bradley is not too stressed about their form before the break, which saw them lose back-to-back games, which resulted in his side being replaced at the top of the table by Sligo Rovers.
“Our form has been good,” he says. “Okay, against Sligo we were poor and off it, but so were they. We gave them the game. It was a poor game, but watch our games and our form has been good.”
Meanwhile, Dundalk are expected to confirm the appointment of interim manager Jim Magilton as boss for the remainder of the season after tonight’s game at home to Waterford, a fixture where Magilton will clash with his one-time QPR colleague Mark Bircham, who is in charge of a Blues side rooted to the bottom of the table.
Magilton, the club’s sporting director, took temporary charge when Filippo Giovagnoli left in April and he repeatedly said he was not interested in taking on the job as he oversaw the recruitment process, which included talks with ex-Donegal boss Jim McGuinness, though the former Northern Ireland man now says he’ll take on any role offered to him.
The board now want to appoint Magilton, assisted by ex-Dundalk player Dave Rogers, until the end of the season, as a mooted return for ex-manager Vinny Perth is off the table.
“I’m happy to do whatever the board wants me to do, and the football club wants me to do. We’re fortunate that I can step into the role and I will do that for as long as they want me to, once they make a decision one way or the other,” Magilton said.
“I am very happy at this football club and am very happy to support the board, whatever the board want to do. Until that changes, I am the ugly mug that’s going to be standing there,” added Magilton, who spoke of a clear-out of players after a dismal 5-1 loss to Bohemians, only to be rewarded with a 2-0 win over St Patrick’s Athletic.
LEAGUE OF IRELAND PREMIER DIVISION PREVIEWS
Dundalk v Waterford (Oriel Park, 7.45)
Team news: Dundalk’s Chris Shields serves a suspension, Wilfried Zahibo is in quarantine after international duty, while Raivis Jurkovskis is away with Latvia’s senior squad, but Sonni Nattestad and Cameron Dummigan return. Waterford pair James Waite and Josh Collins have left the club as new boss Mark Bircham lines up new signings.
Talking point: Waterford badly need reinforcements if they are to survive and even with Dundalk’s erratic form, they will be too strong.
Ref: John McLoughlin
Odds: Dundalk 2/9, Waterford 11/1, draw 9/2
Verdict: Home win
Derry City v Bohemians (Brandywell, 7.45)
Team news: Derry are without Danny Lupano (injury) and Darren Cole (suspension). Bohs have a full-strength squad, with a possible full debut for Stephen Mallon.
Talking Point: Home form is a real concern for Derry, who are yet to win at the Brandywell this season, ex-Derry players Georgie Kelly and Stephen Mallon could have a strong second half to the season and a draw would be a good point for Keith Long’s side.
Ref: Rob Harvey
Odds: Derry 21/10, Bohs 5/4, Draw 11/5
Shamrock Rovers v Finn Harps (Tallaght Stadium, 8.00)
Team news: Ronan Finn, Joey O’Brien, Neil Farrugia, Dylan Watts and Sean Kavanagh all miss out for Rovers, who cannot call on new signing Richie Towell until next month. Harps hope to have Johnny Dunleavy, Stephen Folan and Barry McNamee fit.
Talking point: Injuries have really tested Rovers, particularly in midfield, but Harps’ inability to keep a clean sheet is a big concern.
Ref: Ben Connolly
Odds: Rovers 3/10, Harps 10/1, Draw 15/4
Verdict: Home win