Winners and Losers from the League Of Ireland season so far
When it started, on February 24, the League of Ireland Premier Division was set to be all about Cork City's attempt to prevent Dundalk achieving a record four-in-a-row. Instead, at the halfway point, with Cork running away from their pursuers, interest has shifted to the relegation battle - a war of attrition that has engulfed seven of the 12 teams.
At one point, a fortnight ago, three points was all that separated the bottom club from the team six places above them. A win can see a team jump four places, but not to safety.
That only comes from putting a winning run together - and there's no sign of that happening among the teams in the bottom half of the standings just yet.
It might seem premature to be nominating winners and losers at this stage, but we're not shy - so we're sticking our neck out based on what's happened so far. . .
Since the Premier League began in 1985 no club has enjoyed a start like Cork's and, under John Caulfield, they are unlikely to press the self-destruct button. Key to their success has been Caulfield's signings, with Conor McCormack, Ryan Delaney and Jimmy Keohane adding strength and class, even if they were overshadowed by the exploits of striker Seán Maguire, who will soon be on his way. For once Caulfield got more joy from the transfer window than his great rival Stephen Kenny.
The tragic loss of captain Ryan McBride threatened to unravel Derry's season after a promising start, but manager Kenny Shiels has proved his mettle by steadying the ship and keeping Derry in position for European honours.
From relegation fodder to European contenders - that's the measure of the huge progress Bray have enjoyed since the arrival of Harry Kenny as manager. With an excellent front three of Aaron Greene, Dylan Connolly and Gary McCabe, the high point so far was a four-game run which saw off Derry, Dundalk, Galway and Shamrock Rovers, but they have been inconsistent since. Have they flattered to deceive? We think not, but Kenny's dilemma is that, in order to strengthen his squad in July, he'd have to lose one or two prize assets.
Three managers so far doesn't imply stability, but more to the point is the fact that eight of their players have only missed a total of ten games between them, reinforcing the view that original manager Martin Russell's legacy is sound. After a promising start, they need to push on and challenge for a European spot or they could be drawn into the relegation battle.
The biggest losers so far, as they have a mountain to climb if they are to catch Cork City. Stephen Kenny is used to replacing key players, but three at the one time appears to have been a bridge too far, especially as the departure of Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle and Ronan Finn was compounded by injuries to Stephen O'Donnell, Seán Gannon and Robbie Benson - all key players in the Dundalk machine. Those injuries brought a promising start to a shuddering halt. Six defeats in 17 games, featuring only one ever-present starter, is alien to Kenny's way of thinking, and it won't get any easier as European games and ambitions could lead to more League defeats.
Fresh faces are needed as the Board pays the price for allowing their best players decamp to rivals (Cork City have four of them) in recent seasons. As a result, Dave Robertson lost his job, and Gerard Lyttle has the thankless task of steering the Bit o' Red away from relegation.
Eight defeats - and a massive five red cards - places the Hoops among the also-rans instead of being strong challengers for a European spot. A major overhaul of staff has only produced an occasional highlight in what is proving a real test for young manager Stephen Bradley, who remains upbeat about the club's long-term-plan.
St Patrick's Athletic
Another team with eight defeats and too many draws. This is about the fourth time that Liam Buckley has had to produce a new team at Inchicore and, with the emphasis on youth, patience is required. It can't help that one of last season's bright sparks, Jamie McGrath, is making waves in Dundalk. Are Pat's to become a nursery club, like Sligo?
Undone by the loss of both strikers through injury, five defeats at home have left Bohs in the relegation zone, and it would have been worse but for goalkeeper Shane Supple's heroics. Other bright spots for Keith Long have been Keith Ward's new lease on life and Fuad Sule's excellent Kante impression.
Drogheda United, Finn Harps and Galway United
They are all where they were expected to be - in the drop zone - but each of them have had their moments. They would have had more and might even survive if they could find a goalscorer.
Yes, they are losers, most especially for deciding that there would be no play-off for promotion from the First Division. Play-offs incentivise teams to stay in the hunt and maintain interest among fans for otherwise meaningless games. The expected Waterford romp to the title has not materialised, thanks to the efforts of Cobh Ramblers and UCD, but the danger is the well-financed Blues will, at some stage, go into overdrive, leaving the rest with nothing to play for.
Sunday Indo Sport