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league of ireland

Five observations from the League of Ireland this week

A certain irish midfielder is ripping it up for Shamrock Rovers, John Caulfield is running out of road, and other things we observed in the League of Ireland this week.

That’s right, observed. Because who needs to learn things. Enjoy our new weekly column on Irish football:

Jack Byrne is quite possibly best player in the league right now. 

The Shamrock Rovers midfielder was undoubtedly disappointed he didn’t become the first League of Ireland player to win an international cap for Ireland in a competitive fixture since Pat Byrne, who played for the same club coincidentally, in 1985. He instead had to make do with warming the bench against Gibraltar and Georgia, but that has not affected his domestic form in any way.

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With the Tallaght outfit sitting top of the table coming into this week, the club had an opportunity to consolidate their place at the summit against relegation embattled UCD. Jack Byrne opened the scoring in the 19th minute, but that was cancelled out by a Yoyo Mahdy equaliser before the end of the first half.

The Students remained resolute until the 83rd minute when Byrne popped up to get his brace for the night, bringing his tally for the season to three goals. Just as impressive though was his technical ability, which shone throughout the game, which Rovers won 3-1.

At just 22 years of age the former Manchester City player could yet have a bright future ahead after leaving his failed spell in England behind him, although the Hoops faithful will be hoping he doesn’t head back any time soon with a potential title challenge in the offing this year.

Dundalk haven’t gone away you know.

The Lilywhites weren’t at their best against Cork City on Friday night, but they didn’t need to be, and got out of Turners Cross by doing the bare minimum.

The reigning champions are going through something of a transition at the moment, as they get used to life without Stephen Kenny as their manager, who is now the Republic of Ireland U21’s boss.

Dundalk have not been their usual imperious selves in the early goings of this campaign, drawing three out of their first seven league games, including a goalless draw against the league leaders. They have, however, won the other four, leaving them as the only undefeated team in the division.

They currently trail Rovers by seven points, a huge gap between the top two, but they do have two games in hand over their rivals in the capital. If there’s one thing this Dundalk side has in spades, it’s a winning mentality, and they have the medals to back it up. We could be in store for a fun title race this year.

Is this the end of the road for John Caulfield?

As I alluded to above, Cork City were not at the races on Friday evening. The 2017 league champions have been on a steady decline over the past year, and the signs of deterioration go all the way back to the midway point of that title-winning season when Sean Maguire left for Preston North End.

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The Rebel Army has not been the same ever since, although having finished runners-up in both the league and cup last year, one would not have expected the fall off to be quite so severe. They have lost three of their seven games so far, with a neutral goal difference.

John Caulfield has brought great success to City, winning six trophies since taking over in 2013, and have been second only to one of the all-time great teams in Irish footballing history. But his style of play has been derided over the years for being rudimentary and at times unnecessarily negative, and now that results are not following, it might be time to part ways.

The First Division is ridiculously competitive.

The League of Ireland’s second tier does not get much love, even from those within it, but this year there seems to be a bit of excitement around the division.

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There are currently seven teams in contention for promotion, with no one really setting themselves apart from the rest of the pack after six weeks. Three points separate Bray Wanderers in first place and Athlone Town in seventh, and it’s conceivable that anyone in between could reach the top flight by the end of the campaign.

Shelbourne, one of the pre-season favourites to win the league, have scored the most goals yet lie in mid-table, while Cabinteely are surprisingly just behind them with 10 goals, but rest in the more satisfying third spot. Limerick and Drogheda United are the other sides with visions of advancing to the Premier Division.

Last season’s expansion to ten teams has so far been a success, while the establishment of three playoff places keeps a nice proportion of teams in contention for promotion. With a number of strong teams duking it out in the top half, there is a recipe for a very competitive season ahead of us.

Michael D. Higgins is the greatest ambassador the league has ever had.

As is his want, the President of Ireland dropped by for a spot of League of Ireland football this week. On this occasion, he was at Stradbrook, where he saw Cabinteely defeat his own native Galway United by a single goal.

President Higgins, along with his dogs, was even on the cover of the match programme, illustrated by Barry Masterson.

According to John Dodge, who’s a bit of an expert on these things, the Irish president has visited every ground in the League of Ireland since being elected in 2011. We couldn’t ask for a better ambassador of the domestic game in this country.

And a special mention to Ronan Curtis, as the former Derry City player won his first trophy with Portsmouth on Sunday after Pompey defeated Sunderland in the final of the Checkatrade Trophy.

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