FRIDAY night’s trip to Waterford represents the start of the second series of Premier Division games this season for Cork City.
The reduction to a 10-team top flight, as well as two full sets of Monday fixtures (City played a third as the Bohemians game was postponed due to the snowfall a month ago) has brought this around quicker than usual, though the league champions have yet to fully complete the first series, with the Derry City game put back to the June Bank Holiday Monday.
Had that been played, John Caulfield’s side would have four home games played and five away. However, the current three-five split will be further exacerbated on Friday – instead of playing St Patrick’s Athletic at home in a return of the opening league game, City travel east to the RSC.
Why the league have done this – the first and second rounds are also reversed for the fourth series of games, but otherwise the same pattern is followed – is unknown, but it means they will have played two-thirds of their fixtures away from Turner’s Cross before the home clash with Pat’s on Friday week.
Of the 10 teams, only Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Limerick have played their full complement for the opening series. City and Dundalk are missing a game each, both against Derry City, meaning the Candystripes are on seven matches.
If we were to take a leaf out of the book of the pools panel and award both of those as victories for the top two, we can make a comparison with the other seasons where the sides have battled for the league.
City would have a points-per-game (PPG) ratio of 2.4 with Dundalk on 2.3. Of course, City’s tally falls short of the 3.0 PPG of last year, when they set a new record by winning every game in the opening series. The Lilywhites, having started with three straight wins as they sought four titles in a row, then suffered four losses and had 21 points after 11 games, an average of 1.9.
The 12-point gap proved far too large to bridge.
In 2016, Dundalk’s 28 points – all wins apart from a home defeat to City and a draw with Derry – equated to 2.5, with City on 24 points, 2.18 – they had lost their second game at Derry and then followed the Oriel Park win with three straight losses. Seven points separated the sides at the end of the campaign.
The year previous to that, four draws and a loss pock-marked City’s opening series as they also allowed Dundalk to open up lead. Stephen Kenny’s side seared ahead with nine wins and two losses, 29 points giving them a 2.6 PPG while City, with 22 points, had 2.0. Of the three straight title wins for the Louth side, this was the most comfortable, as they finished the season 11 points ahead of City.
In 2015, ’16 and ’17, there were no postponements to knock the comparison out of kilter, but in 2014 City’s trip to Limerick was put back until between rounds 13 and 14.
City only had one loss in the opening series, but that was a 4-0 reversal at Oriel Park in round 11. Their 24 points were 2.18 PPG, and they were ahead of Dundalk travelling north, as the 2013 runners-up had started with a 4-1 loss at Drogheda and then lost to Bray too. The win over City brought them to 26 points, 2.4 PPG, and at the end of the season they would again leapfrog City at Oriel with a 2-0 final-day win.
It meant that the standings at the end of the first series were replicated and that pattern was followed in each of the next three seasons. City will hope it bears itself out again.