The story of the weekend in the League of Ireland came in a First Division match between Shamrock Rovers II and Athlone Town, with neither team having a chance of promotion (and there is no relegation from the First Division).
The big story then? A 14-year-old named Sam Curtis making his first-team debut for Rovers and thereby becoming the youngest ever player in the club’s history. By all accounts he played well at centre-half in a 3-1 win for The Hoops but there were many concerned viewers stating that 14 is far too young an age for a boy to be playing adult football.
For this observer, those concerned viewers have a point. There are underage leagues for a reason. At 14, a boy’s body still hasn’t fully developed and would be very vulnerable to a bad injury resulting from a heavy tackle from a player aged 18/20 or older. Such an injury could set a boy back several years if not ruin a potentially fledgling career. Would an adult player want to have that on his conscience?
In the Premier Division, Shamrock Rovers have had a number of Coronavirus tests come back positive. Their game against St. Pat’s and their other three remaining games of the league season have been postponed to as yet unknown dates.
Dundalk and Bohemians drew a blank at Oriel Park. Bohemians had a positive Coronavirus test leading up to the match but the match was to test negative for keeping the title race alive. Shamrock Rovers can still be caught, but the chances of them not winning their first title since 2011 are merely mathematical.
On Friday night at Oriel, Dundalk dominated over the 90 minutes but the Gypsies had chances on the break. It would have been harsh on The Town to lose and they still have work to do to secure European football for next season. Bohemians meanwhile secured second place in the league table with the draw. If they lose against Finn Harps next weekend then Shamrock Rovers will be crowned champions.
On Monday night then Dundalk overcame Derry City 1-2 at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium.
With one eye on the opening Europa League group stage fixture against Molde, Fillippo Giovagnoli made seven changes to his Dundalk starting XI from the draw with Bohs for what was their third game in six days.
Dundalk got out of the traps very quickly with the battle for Europa League playing places seemingly being very keenly contested and took a 0-2 lead inside 15 minutes.
On seven minutes Former Derry midfielder Greg Sloggett got past Ciaron Harkin and into the penalty area before laying the ball off to Seán Murray who fired clinically into the top corner of the net.
On 15 minutes Dundalk capitalised on a miss-hit back pass from Conor Clifford and Jordan Flores finished with composure past the exposed Peter Cherrie.
The home side pulled a goal back three minutes later. Adam Hammill swung in a quality free-kick from wide on the left and Cameron McJannett’s header deflected off the back of David McMillan on the goal-line. Darren Cole reacted quickest to sweep the ball home calmly.
From there Derry had the better of the chances but they couldn’t force an equalizer. Derry now look to have little to play for for the remainder of the season, though maximum points from their three remaining games would give them an outside chance of a European place. Dundalk are now in pole position to finish third as they turn their attention to Tallaght and the Europa League group stages.
On Saturday, Cork City and Waterford also drew a blank at Turners Cross. It was however incredible that a goal wasn’t scored over the course of the 90 minutes. Cork can’t catch a break at the moment and can feel particularly hard done by that a Cian Coleman header from a Kevin O’Connor corner ended up in the net 15 minutes from time but was mysteriously disallowed by referee Ben Connolly.
City had another great chance to take the lead on 85 minutes. Deshane Dalling hammered the ball into the penalty area, Brian Murphy palmed it out to Kit Elliot who had his follow-up put out for a corner. From that, the ball bobbled around inside the box before eventually being hacked clear.
The home side finished the game on the front foot and substitute Beineon O’Brien Whitmarsh forced a stunning low save from Murphy to ensure a share of the spoils.
Games are now fast running out for Cork City in their fight against relegation. They remain one point adrift of Finn Harps at the bottom of the table with just two to play for the leesiders while Harps still have four games remaining.
Waterford meanwhile remain in the hunt for a European place but they’ll likely be hoping that one of the top three win the Cup so that the Blues can earn that European spot.
On Sunday at Tolka Park Shelbourne secured a big three points, pipping Sligo Rovers 1-0, with two wins from two keeping Ian Morris’ men just about in the hunt for a European place.
On a fine afternoon for football in Dublin, Shels took the lead after 20 minutes through an excellent team goal.
Ciarán Kilduff’s right-wing cross was hammered to the net from 12 yards by influential skipper Gary Deegan after Dayle Rooney had dummied brilliantly to set him up.
The home side were reduced to 10-men some 20 minutes from time when defender Luke Byrne, who was judged to have recklessly fouled Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe was shown a straight red card.
Following the red card, Shels brought on Daniel Byrne for Denzil Fernandes and comfortably saw the game out despite some Sligo half chances.
Both sides are now level on points and will need a number of results of matches not involving them to go their way if they are to qualify for Europe through the league.
In the First Division, UCD beat Cabinteely 5-1 meaning that Cabo’s promotion play-off hopes are not out of their own hands. Yoyo Mahdy scored twice for the Students, while Colm Whelan, Danu Kinsella Bishop and Liam Kerrigan also scored for the hosts during a lively second half which The Students completely dominated.
Kieran Marty Waters scored what turned out to be a consolation for the visitors in the 74th minute. Having led the league past its midpoint, Cabo have now lost four of their last five games and even if they do scrape into the play-offs will go into those play-offs as firm outsiders on current form. UCD meanwhile know that a win over Galway United on the final day of the regular season will ensure their place in the play-offs while a draw should be enough for a top five berth.
Cobh Ramblers have maintained their late push for the final play-off place by beating Longford Town 0-1 at City Calling Stadium thanks to a composed 49th minute finish from Ian Turner. If the in-form Rams beat Shamrock Rovers II on the final day of the season, they will scrape into the final play-off spot – occupying fifth place for the first time all season – provided that Cabinteely don’t beat title chasing Drogheda United and that Galway take fewer than six points from their three remaining games, all of which are against the top three teams.