The 2020 League of Ireland season may have been reduced to just 18 rounds of fixtures because of the coronavirus, but that does not look like it will stop Shamrock Rovers from running away with the league title.
Ireland’s top flight usually consists of 36 games across the campaign, but it has been cut by half that number due to the effects of the pandemic, with the season scheduled to reach a conclusion at the end of next month.
No Stopping Shamrock at the Top
Shamrock Rovers are the most successful club in Irish top-flight history, winning the title a record 17 times, although the last of those successes was back in 2011.
Stephen Bradley’s side finished a distant second behind champions Dundalk last term, but they have been the dominant force this season, winning 10 and drawing two of their 12 league games to date to move eight points clear at the top of the standings.
Rovers underlined their superiority with a 6-1 victory over Waterford on Monday night and they have not just reserved their impressive performances for domestic action, as they also ran AC Milan close in Europa League qualifying earlier this month, only losing 2-0 to the Italian giants.
Bohemians are the nearest rivals to Shamrock, but they are eight points back and have lost two of their last three games, while Dundalk’s hopes of retaining their title are all but over, as they are a further seven back, albeit they do have two games in hand.
Dundalk Juggling European Commitments
One of the reasons Dundalk have not been able to sustain a title challenge is due to their European commitments, as Filippo Giovagnoli’s side are still involved in the Europa League and will travel to Moldova to take on Sheriff Tiraspol in the third qualifying round on Thursday.
That run has seen the Lilywhites take their eye off the ball domestically, as they have won only one of their last five games, which means they are only hanging on to third-place via goal difference.
The fact they have games in hand means Dundalk should be able to hold on to third place and perhaps even challenge Bohemians for a top-two finish, but if they do slip up then the likes of Waterford and Sligo Rovers are lying in wait.
Waterford are level on points with Dundalk, while Sligo are one back, with those two teams due to go head-to-head at the Waterford Regional Sports Centre on Saturday.
Relegation Looming for Big-Hitting Cork
Cork City were crowned League of Ireland champions just two years ago and they finished in the top-two every year between 2014 and 2018.
However, last season Neale Fenn’s side could only finish eighth and things have gone even worse this term, as they are rooted to the bottom of the table and are five points adrift of guaranteed safety.
Cork have only won twice in the league this season, but they do have a game in hand on the teams directly above them and will visit second-bottom Finn Harps on Sunday.
The Harps are no strangers to a relegation fight, as they only survived last season after beating Drogheda United in the relegation play-off.
Ollie Horgan’s side currently occupy the play-off position this term as well, but they will be buoyed by a recent upturn in results that has seen them lose just one of their last four league games.
If either Cork or Finn Harps can mount a survival push then the team looking most vulnerable is St Patrick’s Athletic, as they have failed to win or score in any of their last five league games, while Derry City and Shelbourne will also be looking nervously over their shoulders.