IT WAS built up as the meeting between the top two sides in the country, and the game between Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk did not disappoint.
The League of Ireland is a two-horse race. I would be surprised if any team finished within 15 points of both Rovers and Dundalk.
Such is the gap between those two clubs and the rest of the sides, that I can’t foresee either the Hoops or the Lilywhites dropping many points to the other teams in the league, which is why Rovers’ victory in Tallaght last weekend was a huge statement by Stephen Bradley’s side.
Rovers have been seen as ‘bottlers’ in recent years. They were seen as a team that were all bark and no bite.
I’ve said on numerous occasions that the Hoops winning the FAI Cup was a huge moment for the club, but beating Dundalk 3-2 may just have surpassed last season’s cup victory.
Winning the FAI Cup is a huge honour, but at the end of the day, winning a cup doesn’t make you the best team — winning the league does, and only that will be deemed as a success for Rovers this season.
They landed the first punch in the battle of the heavyweights in the league and showed a lot of character that they have been accused of lacking in the past by coming from behind against the champions.
League of Ireland has often been accused of lacking any real quality, but there was a lot of talent on show between Rovers and Dundalk.
It was the best League of Ireland game I’ve ever seen. I have watched some League of Ireland games in the past, only to be switching channels because of the lack of quality.
However, I found myself glued to the television last Friday night.
How often have we seen the top games in England hyped up, only to be a let-down because of the negative tactics on display?
Credit must go to Bradley and Vinny Perth, because they both backed the quality of players in their squad and it was clear that both managers tried to win the game.
It’s hard not to mention Jordon Flores’ incredible goal.
To get his leg that high, meet the ball at that speed and then to strike it into the top of the net was an incredible skill and is the best goal I have ever seen.
Rovers now have to keep this early-season momentum going and they will face another one of their bogey teams when they visit the Showgrounds tomorrow night.
Sligo Rovers are a team Shamrock Rovers could only defeat once last season. I know from my time with the Dublin club that the Hoops never enjoyed playing against Sligo, and they will be cautious of any potential upset.
Cork City’s victory over Finn Harps was a massive result for the Rebel Army, but it won’t mean much if they can’t follow it up with a positive result against St Patrick’s Athletic, who themselves will be desperate to get a victory after what has been an indifferent start to the season for them.
Pats had high hopes for the season and Stephen O’ Donnell was given an attractive budget, but with one win from three games, Pats are not reaching the targets they would have set themselves.
There’s no doubt, they aim is to qualify for Europe — and with the budget they have, not qualifying must be considered a failure.
Pats have lost their only game at Richmond Park this season and I see it as the ideal game for City to start gathering momentum.
The Pats crowd will be expecting their team to roll over City, just as they did when we (Waterford) played them in the opening game of the season.
That expectation brings a lot of pressure on the players and they need to show that they can deal with it.
I was very surprised by Pats against us that night. I expected a lot more from O’Donnell’s side.
Being the first game of the season and with a lot of new faces in their team, we might have caught them at the right time, but they will need to improve if they want to fulfil their ambitions this season.
Pats can’t wait until six or seven games into the season to get into their rhythm, they are looking at third, and another home defeat will make that an uphill task, even though they will have only played four games.
City’s victory last weekend showed that they are a side prepared to fight when they are in a battle.
Harps are a physical side and when I saw the conditions at Turners Cross last week, I anticipated a Harps win because I thought the awful conditions would suit a side who love to make a game a battle, rather than a young team who haven’t known each other long much more.
City proved me wrong, and Alex Byrne is really starting to show leadership qualities in the team and is a player that opposition teams are becoming much more aware of, which is both a good and a bad thing.
It’s good because it shows that teams fear him now because of his quality.
However, recognition does have its downsides, making Byrne a marked man, which might stop him from influencing games in the way he has been.
Victory against Pats would really get City’s season going.