IT has been two weeks since the resumption of League of Ireland football and already the league title race is over.
At the beginning of the season, it appeared that tussle for the title would go right down to the wire but that’s not going to be the case. Shamrock Rovers threw away a health lead last season. Yet with only 11 games remaining and the Hoops six points clear of second place Bohemians and more importantly eight points ahead of Dundalk, it's very unlikely history will repeat itself.
Rovers will not admit it but they won’t be worried about Bohemians, they know Dundalk are their main threat.
It was always going to be interesting to see how teams returned after such a long time off and the team that have surprised everyone have been Dundalk. To collect only one point from their two games is not good enough from the champions and it seems their defence of their title has ended.
There have only been seven league games played and in recent seasons Dundalk have started slow but always managed to come good when it mattered. However, that was in a 36-game league season and the Lilywhites couldn’t afford to start the resumption of the league off the pace but they have.
Dundalk manager Vinny Perth had been protesting about the resumption of the league with so little games, arguing that he had built a squad to compete for a 36-game season not 18. From a player’s point of view, I agreed with Perth’s view that there is such a long off-season in the league, that the season could have just prolonged into the winter months to play the games.
However, it suits Dundalk to carry on playing, they have the financial backing, whereas prolonging the league might have meant some clubs going out of business and it’s more important that clubs survive rather than play more games.
It’s interesting that while Perth was against the decision of reducing the number of games, Rovers manager Stephen Bradley seem grateful that the league resumed in any capacity. The manager’s views might have affected their players. Of course, Bradley would have been more in favour than Perth of resuming the league with a reduced number of fixtures.
Rovers had a three-point advantage over Dundalk and it was always going to give the Hoops a better chance of winning the league with fewer games. I believe Rovers will win the title but I still feel they would have won it with a 36-game season.
The Hoops have the best squad in the division. When you look at the players they were able to bring off the bench last Sunday against Derry City, it’s no wonder they are sitting comfortably top of the league. Being able to bring on players like Graham Burke and Neil Furrugia, must make other managers envious of Bradley’s options.
Rovers haven’t become the best team in the league overnight, this is a side that Bradley has spent years working on. There have been times when people have questioned the former Arsenal player and how he was still in a job at Rovers. Bradley has always portrayed a man that had confidence in what he was doing and knew that he would be given the time to implement his plans.
When I first met the Rovers manager last year after signing for the Hoops on-loan from Cork City, we spoke about the usual things a new signing and a manager do when they first met. He told me his plans for me, the way he wanted his team to play and his ambition for the club.
What I found most interesting from that meeting, is when he talked about that he has never feared for his job because he knew that the Rovers board acknowledged that there was a plan in place and success wasn’t going to be immediate.
Bradley spoke about how the board’s objective was that he wins the title within four years and he seems to have timed it perfectly. Credit must go to the Rovers board for the way they have backed Bradley and ignored many who called for the manager to be sacked.
Rovers winning the FAI Cup seems like it was just the beginning and they will look to dominate Irish football for years to come. Rovers winning games by coming from behind against Derry and Dundalk shows character, character people have accused them of lacking for the past several seasons.