Testing times for SSE Airtricity Dublin clubs on Premier stage

by Stephen Findlater
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The SSE Airtricity League season draws to a close this weekend and it’s been another mixed season for the Dublin clubs.

With the First Division having wound up early to facilitate the play-offs, its just the three Premier Division sides still in action but with little at stake.

Shamrock Rovers have qualified for Europe for the fourth successive season as a result of their third-placed finish but once again the Hoops failed to mount a title bid.

A disastrous second series of games, which saw Stephen Bradley’s side win just once, saw the Hoops out of touch by the midway point in the season.

Rovers are on course to finish the season 26 points behind Dundalk, even if they beat managerless Sligo Rovers on Friday.

More positive has been the manner in which they’ve ended the season with 11 wins, two draws and one defeat from their final 14 games, and they’ll hope to carry that on next year.

On the other end of the Liffey, Bohemians have exceeded all expectations this season and look set for a top-half finish that belies their part-time status.

Keith Long’s side came within the bounce of a ball of an FAI Cup final appearance as a disputed penalty decision in the home game against Cork City forced a replay, which they lost 2-1.

The Gypsies hit form at just the right time and went ten games unbeaten leading into the cup replay, and their tally of 50 goals so far is the fourth-best in the division.

It was the end of an era in Inchicore as Liam Buckley agreed to step down from the St Patrick’s Athletic hotseat following a success-laden seven-year stint.

Buckley, who led the Athletic to league success in 2013 and their first FAI Cup in 53 years 12 months later, left the club by mutual consent in late September.

There’s little doubt the success story of the season from a Dublin perspective has been the revival of UCD, who not only topped the First Division but made it all the way to the FAI Cup semi-finals.

And it took the Premier Division winners Dundalk – featuring a handful of ex-UCD players including striker Georgie Kelly – to deny them a final appearance at Oriel Park.

Remarkably, despite leaving the club in July, Kelly finished the season as the Students’ top scorer with 14 goals – four ahead of captain Gary O’Neill.

A return to the top flight will really test the limits of Collie O’Neill’s squad – they’re set to stick with only scholarship players next year – but will have turned heads with the style of football this year.

Things have been less rosy at Shelbourne, however, and the Reds dispensed with the services of manager Owen Heary despite finishing third and reaching the play-offs.

Heary had guided the troubled Dublin side to progressively higher finishes but a penalty shoot-out defeat to Drogheda having played the majority of the second leg with nine men was the final straw.

David O’Sullivan finished the season with an impressive 15 goals to take the First Division golden boot, and Shels could face a battle to keep the league’s form striker on the books.

And Cabinteely’s upward trajectory continued with their most successful season to date – a seventh-placed finish in the ten-team First Division.

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