Damien Duff-inspired Shelbourne best in class but Derry are finding form

Eoin Doyle Eoin Doyle | 06-21 16:15

As the League of Ireland Premier Division passes the midpoint and we find ourselves in the mid-season break, it's an opportune time to reflect on how each club has fared so far this season. From unexpected surges to disappointing efforts, the campaign has been a rollercoaster for fans and players alike.

Shelbourne FC
The standout team this season, starting the season fast by winning six of their first seven games, perching themselves at the top of the table early and refusing to be budged. Under the leadership of Damien Duff and Joey O’Brien, Shelbourne have demonstrated remarkable consistency and resilience.

Their defensive solidity has been instrumental, however dealing with the loss of Gavin Molloy will be a new test for the team. They have announced new signings already for when the transfer window opens in Sam Bone and Ali Coote and I’d expect one or two more to come in.

Their success has also been bolstered by the creative displays of Will Jarvis in attack. Their journey from when Duff first took over to title contenders this year is a testament to the Irish centurion's management skills, he has improved his team by improving his players - Paddy Barrett and Mark Coyle are both examples of this, the latter has been excellent in the middle of the pitch for them.

The manager's new contract is a sign of his commitment to the cause.

Derry City
Derry City have been quietly going about their business, sitting two points off Shelbourne albeit with Shels having a game in hand. Ruaidhrí Higgins’ side are the leading scorers in the division and have been boosted by the prolific form of Pat Hoban, who leads the scoring charts alongside Padraig Amond at Waterford.

Derry’s challenge will be to keep Hoban, along with some other influential players, fit and firing as they aim to close the gap on Shelbourne. Their disciplined approach and great form leading into the break with three wins on the bounce gives them a great chance of pushing this title race all the way.

Shamrock Rovers

Injuries have hampered Shamrock Rovers

Stephen Bradley’s squad have faced injuries to key players: Neil Farrugia, Jack Byrne, Rory Gaffney and Gary O’Neill to name a few, but their biggest issue has been in the goalkeeping position.

Scoring goals hasn’t been a problem with both Aaron Greene and Johnny Kenny doing well. Before the loss against St Pats, before the break, I believed they had a chance of retaining the title if a suitable goalkeeper comes in early in the window, however the loss in Inchicore leaves them 12 points off top with only 15 games left.

It’s too big of an ask with Shelbourne and Derry’s form and Stephen Bradley may reflect on not finding a suitable replacement for Alan Mannus.

Waterford FC
Waterford have made a strong return to the Premier Division. Keith Long has done an excellent job and has strategically used their sister club, Fleetwood, well with some astute loan signings.

Padraig Amond is leading the race for player of the season and his goal scoring and experience is having a positive effect across the team.

Their ability to compete with their attacking style of play has been noteworthy. Strategic signings and a focus on winning games through an attacking brand of football have paid dividends. Maintaining consistency and keeping key players fit will be crucial in sustaining their push for a European spot.

Galway United
Newly-promoted Galway United have also had an impressive campaign so far, adapting well to the Premier Division’s demands. Their performances have asked a lot of questions of their opponents this season, they have a strong defensive structure, conceding the least goals so far across the league and they create a lot of joy and hurt teams with a direct style of play.

Scoring more goals will be needed in the second half of the season for them and big performances will be demanded of Ed McCarthy, David Hurley and the in-form Stephen Walsh in attack to achieve a strong end to the season for John Caulfield’s men.

St Patrick's Athletic

The Saints have a new look under Stephen Kenny

St Pat’s have been the biggest under-achievers of the season so far. Under the guidance of Stephen Kenny they have shown glimpses of potential but struggled with consistency, with only two wins in seven games since his appointment.

The team has been plagued by injuries and the departure of key players, while struggling to find capable replacements has been an issue.

They will take great confidence with their 2-1 win over Shamrock Rovers before the break, but I expect to see some changes in the upcoming window as Stephen Kenny starts to plan and build for this long-term project.

Sligo Rovers
Sligo Rovers continue to punch above their weight. John Russell's side have shown resilience and an eye for talent, trying to hold on to Ed McGinty who has been such an important player for them and finding a capable replacement for Max Mata will be big on the agenda when the transfer window opens.

They continue to pick up unexpected results which has kept them at a distance from the bottom two. Their squad is the youngest in the league and their commitment to developing young players is commendable. An eighth-place finish would be considered a success, and they are on the right trajectory to achieve this.

Bohemians FC
Bohemians have had a turbulent season, marked by inconsistent performances. The departure of Declan Devine and the appointment of Alan Reynolds along with a strong management team as his successor highlight the club’s ongoing quest for stability.

Losing Rob Cornwall and Keith Buckley so early in the season through injury hasn’t helped but Bohs have shown moments of promise at times, particularly through players like James Clarke and Dayle Rooney.

Their fan-owned model continues to be their strength, but translating off-field success to on-field performances remains a challenge and this transfer window can’t come quick enough for Alan Reynolds as he begins to put some shape on his squad. Signing Ross Tierney from Motherwell is a great start to the window for them.

Dundalk FC

Dundalk and Drogheda hold the bottom two positions as it stands

Dundalk’s season has been a struggle, finding themselves rooted to the bottom of the table all season until Jon Daly’s appointment, which seems to have brought some stability with immediate positive results.

The appointment of Daly as manager was a strategic move aimed at reversing their fortunes, which was needed with a lot of off-field negativity surrounding the club.

Dundalk have shown strong performances in patches without getting results to match. They have good strengths, mainly on the right side of the pitch with Daryl Horgan and Archie Davies both highly effective. The upcoming transfer window will be crucial for them as they look to bolster their squad and avoid relegation.

Drogheda United
As the sole part-time club in the league, Drogheda United have had a challenging season. Only winning three games all season, they have done well to be still in with a chance of avoiding relegation.

Incoming signings will be key in the upcoming window, with meagre resources they will be heavily relying on the loan market.

Their biggest asset is their manager, Kevin Doherty has history of being successful with limited resources and while difficult this time around he is more than capable of pulling off a great escape.

As we move into the second half of the season, the battle for the title, European spots and the fight to avoid relegation promise to provide more drama and excitement for fans across Ireland. The competitive nature of the league this year has set the stage for an exciting second half of the season.

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