After two full matchdays (13 games to be specific) it seems like a good time to scan the embryonic League of Ireland table and make some sweeping conclusions based on those few games. Predictably, Shamrock Rovers top the table as they seek a third straight title. Relegation favourites’ Drogheda sit bottom. However, on closer inspection, things might not be as they seem. 

  1. Shamrock Rovers won’t have things all their own way 

Shams may sit first but they have tasted defeat in their only away game of the season so far. Having won the truncated 2020 league title without losing a game, the favourites have already been proven beatable.  

What were seen as optimistic pre-season predictions of a title fight with the likes of Dundalk, Derry City and Sligo Rovers will indeed come to fruition. Hopefully. In fairness, it is hard to look past them for the title so it’s necessary to search for faults.  

Such as. 

Shams two wins so far have been against, objectively, the worst teams in the division. At home. And last time out, while ceding the majority of possession, they needed an 81st minute goal against Drogheda to finally make the game safe.  

Next up is a trip to face St. Pats.

  1. Derry City will win the league 

Five points from three games doesn’t sound so fantastic but the quality of opposition could scarcely have been higher.  

Having trailed twice, rescuing a point at Oriel Park on the opening day of the season was a very good result. Not many teams will take points home from Dundalk this season. 

Victory over champions’ Shamrock Rovers with a (deep into) stoppage time winner is the kind of result that makes a team believe something special is happening. Heavy investment in the squad during the off season meant people were tipping Derry for good reason.  

The Candystripes haven’t finished in the top two since 2006, and last won the title a decade prior, but that may be about to change. 

  1. Sligo Rovers will qualify for Europe as Aidan Keena wins Player of the Year 

Two weeks before the season began, it looked as though Sligo Rovers would begin the campaign a little light up top. It appeared that new signing Karl O’Sullivan would have to shoulder the majority of the attacking workload until Liam Buckley signed striker Aidan Keena from Falkirk. 

In 2017, the then 17-year-old was given his professional debut by Buckley when both were at St. Pats together. The highly rated youngster was quickly snapped up by Hearts that summer but never really got going in Edinburgh, loaned out twice in three years before joining Hartlepool. Six months later he was back in Scotland at Falkirk and looked a player who had lost his way. 

21 goals in 70-odd games in Scotland’s top three tiers just proves his talent, and now Keena is back with the manager who knows him best.  

A goal, a win, and a super performance on his debut was followed up with another excellent performance in Rovers impressive 0-0 draw at the Brandywell. Rovers will play in the Europa Conference League again this year and a 20-goal season for Keena will see them return once more in 2023.  

  1. St. Patricks Athletic will flatter to deceive 

A lot of pre-season predictions for the 2022 season had St. Pats and Derry City in the top three. Pats signing of Eoin Doyle made a lot of people sit up but the departure of manager Stephen O’Donnell to Dundalk will have a much bigger and negative impact. 

As for Doyle, he returned to the league for the first time in eleven years after a tremendous spell in England. 118 league goals in just over 300 appearances tells its own story but the goals dried up for Doyle at Bolton this season (5 in 21) and remain elusive so far on his return. He turns 34 next week. 

The opening day win against Shelbourne can be attributed to a few moments of individual brilliance rather than a great team performance. Two defeats have since followed. They host Shamrock Rovers next and another poor result could see them drop into the bottom two.  

Pats will have more than enough to avoid a relegation battle but will be mired in mid-table mediocrity and left to pray for a cup run similar to last season. 

  1. Finn Harps will get relegated 

Finn Harps started last season incredibly well and led the league at this very stage. They then lost 11 of their next 17, winning just twice in the following four months.  

An amazing run of four straight wins in August looked to have eased any relegation fears before they promptly reverted to type and won just once more before the middle of November. 

The final game of the season would be in Ballybofey against already relegated Longford. Win and they are safe, lose and it’s the relegation playoff. Harps won 5-0. Karl O’Sullivan ran the show. Now he’s at Sligo Rovers. 

This season, Finn Harps didn’t have that electric start. Thumped 3-0 by Dundalk after a 0-0 draw at UCD. With their run of fixtures, it’s conceivable they remain on one point by the time they host Drogheda on matchday 8. 

Richard Mullan