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Three League of Ireland observations from Gameweek 20

Michael Duffy is staking a claim for being one of the most important players in Dundalk’s side this season, while Derry City continue to be a resilient team and Shelbourne love winning by the odd goal.

It was a shortened schedule of fixtures this week in the League of Ireland, as UCD vs Bohemians and Cork City vs Waterford FC were postponed due to the Toulon Tournament, in which the Ireland U21s are competing and have reached the semi-finals for the first time ever.

Dundalk FC extended their lead at the top of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division thanks to a routine 3-0 victory over Finn Harps, while Shamrock Rovers could only muster a 2-2 draw with Derry City. Elsewhere, Sligo Rovers drew 1-1 with St. Patrick’s Athletic.

Three League of Ireland observations from Gameweek 20:

Is Michael Duffy a serious Player of the Year contender?

We’re just over the halfway mark in the season, so we’re getting to the point where we can probably start talking about who have been the best players this season.

A couple of months into the campaign and things appeared to be going one way: Shamrock Rovers were going to win the league and Jack Byrne would be the likely Player of the Year following some terrific performances. But life rarely goes in a straight line.

In the last few weeks Dundalk have overtaken the Tallaght side in the table, and thanks to Saturday’s results they now hold a five point lead with an extra game played. The lesson here is, it’s really hard to knock Dundalk off their perch.

One of the reasons for that is they have so many good players who been there, done that. The return of Patrick McEleney and Chris Shields helped the Louth outfit regain their past form, while Pat Hoban, Brian Gartland and Gary Rogers have been performing to their usual high standard.

With so many playing well — and expected to do so — sometimes we miss other great performers within super strong teams. Michael Duffy is one such player who, while recognised for being a very good talent, doesn’t receive the same praise or accolades as Hoban or McEleney.

That could change if he keeps up his scintillating form for Dundalk to the end of the season. The former Celtic player has scored seven goals for the reigning champions so far, while he has also contributed a lot to the side’s build-up play.

The Derry man’s latest goal was a bullet of a header to open the scoring against Finn Harps in a 3-0 victory, showing he has more strings to his bow than just cutting inside and having a crack at goal.

Duffy has been consistently good week in, week out, and his tally is only bettered by teammate Hoban, and the majority of those goals have come from the penalty spot. Short of Byrne single-handedly winning the title for Rovers, is there anyone else who could make a better argument for being this season’s Player of the Year at this point?

You just can’t kill Derry

In this column I wrote that Derry City were dark horses for European qualification and I was scolded for that opinion, but under Declan Devine they have been able to compete with the best this season. After 20 games they now sit in fourth, three points behind Bohemians and in a League Cup semi-final.

With much of the Ireland squad in attendance following their 1-1 draw with Denmark the night before, Shamrock Rovers and Derry played out an exciting 2-2 draw at Tallaght Stadium.

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The visitors earned a point after conceding twice through second-half goals from Trevor Clarke and Jack Byrne, but a third goal in the space of five minutes, this time from Ciaran Coll, got them back in the game. In the 83rd minute the Candystripes completed the comeback with an equaliser from the skillful Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe

It was the second such come-from-behind 2-2 draw they had secured away from home in a month, after scoring a late equaliser at Dundalk at the beginning of May.

Of their 30 league goals scored this season, Derry have notched eight of them in the 80th minute or later, three of which have come in injury time. Alongside their comeback win over Finn Harps in the League Cup quarter-final, in which they scored in the 83rd and 94th minutes, it shows there’s a great resilience in this team to fight to the very end in every game.

Read: Ireland need a solution to the Glenn Whelan problem

Shelbourne the masters of the one goal win

The margins of the First Division are so tight that the current leaders and the sixth-placed team could have been a mere three points from each had the result from their meeting gone the other way at the weekend. Instead, Shelbourne came away from the Carlisle Grounds with a 1-0 win to leave Bray Wanderers nine points off top spot.

The difference maker came in just the 14th minute when Karl Moore dispatched this wonderful free-kick into the top corner of the goal.

It is fitting then, that Shels should sit at the summit of the table by a solitary point after winning by the slimmest of margins on Saturday, as no other team comes out the right side of close encounters as much as they do.

The Dublin outfit have thus far won eight games by the bare minimum, with half of those being 1-0 wins. They are currently on a five-game winning run, all of which were won by a solitary goal, catapulting them to first place.

The pressure was on Shels to do well this season and they seemed to be creaking under it with three defeats in their first six games, but they are grinding out the results week after week. With so many teams in the mix, perhaps that ability to squeeze out wins will help them push away from the crowd and reach the Premier Division.

See Also: League of Ireland Team of the Week for Gameweek 20