Despite the fact there are still just under ten games remaining in the 2015 SSE Airtricity League Premier Division campaign, many pundits and supporters are already crowning Dundalk FC as champions for a second successive season while the European places are all being fought upon by the familiar old faces.
However, it’s the bottom half of Irish football’s top flight where all the excitement and headlines are coming from this season with incredibly up to seven teams looking over their shoulder in fear of a drop down to the SSE Airtricity League First Division.
Just like Dundalk’s eventual success has been talked about for months now, the certain doom of Limerick FC had been decided on by the footballing public for even longer, that was until Martin Russell’s men staged the most unlikely of relegation fight backs.
Three wins on the spin and against blockbuster opposition, followed by a draw against fellow strugglers of late Longford Town and suddenly the Super Blues find themselves just two wins away from Sligo Rovers in eleventh place and the solace of the relegation play-off position.
Bray Wanderers started the season among the favorites for the drop this term and despite a season full of off field headaches and PR disaster for the County Wicklow club the seemingly crazy prediction of a top six finish now looks set to come to fruition for chairman Denis O’Connor and co.
Having gone through four different managers in the space of just a couple of months, the Seagulls’ players have rallied around each other and new boss Mick Cooke to fire themselves four points clear of seventh placed Longford with a game in hand over the Midlanders to boot.
What of Tony Cousins newly promoted Town side? A fantastic start to the campaign with results against the likes of St. Patrick’s Athletic and Bohemians at home as well as wins away to positional rivals such as Galway United and Drogheda saw De Town look well on course for a top half finish in their first Premier stint in seven years.
However, a disastrous run of form since that famous City Calling Stadium triumph over the Gypsies has seen the Red and Black of Longford slide to within three points of N4 rivals Sligo Rovers.
Mickey Adams’ arrival in the West has signaled the start of a mini rival at the Showgrounds and with a cup quarter-final against Dundalk to come this could still be a magical season for the Bit O’Red.
The re-signing of journeyman striker Anthony Elding looked to be a desperation move from an outsiders point of view but within the Sligo Rovers footballing circle it has sparked some excitement back into the Rovers cause and it very well could be the difference between relegation and safety this campaign.
Speaking of big impact signings, Drogheda United this week confirmed the capture of former Republic of Ireland international Keith Tracey and if fit and on form this could prove to be an inspired piece of business by manager Johnny McDonnell.
The Drogs currently sit just one point clear of that perilous play-off spot but with goalkeeper Micheal Schlingermann in the form of his life and with Lee Duffy and Tiernan Mulvenna having decent seasons at the other end, McDonnell will be hoping his sides fortunes can soon turn in this epic relegation tussle.
Just like Sligo Rovers, Derry City have enjoyed a recent turn around with the likes of Mark Timlin contributing big but even at that it is only goal difference that keeps the Candystripes’ heads above that water at the moment and their under-fire boss Peter Hutton will be hoping a good end of campaign league and cup run can help salvage his position at the Brandywell next season as well as their divisional status.
All that leaves is EA Sports Cup finalists Galway United. Like fellow new boys Longford Town Tommy Dunne’s men looked safe as houses in the first part of the season but again like their promoted counterparts injuries to key players have killed the Tribesmen’s momentum and now a play-off struggle looks more likely than the glitz and glam of the top half which is a shame given the brand of football United play and the encouraging attendances at Deacy Park which have now started to plummet.
So the question remains, who will beat the drop? Who will go straight down and who will require the rollercoaster of a play-off final?
When you look at the remaining league games this season it is Sligo Rovers fixtures, particularly at home that stand out to you as point builders. With Bray Wanderers, an out of form “Bohs” and Limerick FC all to visit the Showgrounds in the final eight games you would have to fancy Adams men to not only be safe but collect the highest total of remaining points in the bottom half.
Also with favorable run ins, at least on paper, are Bray, Longford Town and Derry City with predictions of sixth, seventh and ninth being given here having studied and compared the fixture list.
The least encouraging signs for supporters come out of the Market Fields where the likes of Pat’s, Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers travel while the big head to head games against Drogs, Bray, Galway and Sligo all come away from home.
Followers of Drogheda United will not be overly enamored with their remaining ties either with trips to Derry, Dundalk, Pat’s and the Hoops all meaning the Louth based side are likely to need a play-off game in order to maintain their top flight reputation for next season.
Obviously this is all just speculation and estimates until the teams actually take to the pitch and scenarios such as injuries and suspensions come into effect not to mention officials decisions who have been in the spotlight of late.
However, what you can be guaranteed between now and November time is passion, drama, joy and heartbreak in equal measures as the battle for survival enters its final stretch in the league its dedicated supporters like to label the greatest in the world.