With the forced cancellation of all soccer activity for the next two weeks at least due to the Coronavirus outbreak across the world, it will be a very quiet period in terms of sports reporting. As a result, we will undertake a review of the performance of each individual team in the PJ Matthews Premier Division thus far.
With nine games remaining for most teams, we are effectively only at the midway stage of the league season. We will start by evaluating the performance of the top six in the premier league.
Ballynanty Rovers: Donal Magee’s men are currently top of the pile albeit with an extra game played. The Northsiders earned a massive victory over Fairview at the beginning of the season and it was a statement of intent as they were missing many players on the night.
They will be disappointed with their performance in both the Munster and FAI Junior Cup’s in which they were knocked out in the early rounds by Pike and Fairview.
They benefited massively from Limerick FC’s demise with Jason Hughes, Kieran Hanlon, Shaun Kelly and Connor Ellis signing. However, Kelly has since returned to Donegal and Balla were informed that only two of those players could play in the league. Their displays against both Pike and Fairview will have to improve if the league resumes if they are to win the title. With Ellis up front, they have no problems scoring goals but have conceded 23 goals in 12 games.
Fairview Rangers: Fairview have taken the league by storm this season. The pre-season acquisitions of Mark Slattery, Stephen Bradley, Clyde O’Connell and others has worked out extremely well for Jason Purcell. Slattery and O’Connell have been extremely solid at the heart of the defence and with an energetic midfield of Bradley, Jeffrey Judge and AL O’Connor, the Fairgreen outfit have been unplayable for most teams.
They are still in all five competitions that they have entered and few would bet against them winning their first league title in many years. Everybody appears to be singing from the same hymn sheet despite the limited game time for some quality players. Purcell appears to be getting the best from an ageing Robbie Kelleher who was written off by many in recent years.
The only thing that will stop them winning the league will be the fact that they will ultimately be prioritising the FAI and Munster Junior Cups and are due to be without a league game for four weeks when football resumes.
Pike Rovers: It has been a challenging year for the Crosagalla outfit so far. They are just four points behind Ballynanty with two games in hand but it is the dominance of their age-old rivals which will be a bitter pill to swallow.
In the six week period leading up to this ‘shut-down’, the Hoops were knocked out of the FAI and Munster Junior Cups as well as the Tuohy Cup and all at the hands of Fairview, who were deserving winners on each occasion. Of course many are labelling them as a team of yesteryear which is premature but it is up to Williams side to rise to this relatively unprecedented challenge.
Pike’s lack of width appears to be hurting them this season with one of Shane Walsh or Colin Daly asked to fill the void on the right. Also, the once free scoring Johnathan Grant and Keith Mawdsley are now struggling in the big games. You cannot judge the duo on performances against the lower teams any longer.
Geraldines: The Garryowen outfit can certainly be happy with their performance so far. They are currently in fourth position and just eight points off top position. It is a big improvement on last season’s seventh place position.
The return of Danny O’Neill from Janesboro has been a big boost as the right-back has added goals from set pieces. Reaching the last 16 of the Munster Junior Cup was a decent achievement but the ‘Dines will have a battle on their hands to maintain fourth position with the likes of Regional and Aisling Annacotty right on their heels.
Derek Hannon will have a job on his hands to motivate the squad for the remainder of the season as was evident during a lacklustre display during a recent defeat to Nenagh. It is always difficult to keep junior sides interested once they are eliminated from all cup competitions and cannot win the league, but finishing fourth would be a great achievement for the squad and should be recognised.
Aisling Annacotty: It has been a year full of drama for Aisling Annacotty following last year’s unexpected and incredible run to the semi-final of the FAI Junior Cup. The club sent shockwaves through the Irish junior soccer world with the capture of former Janesboro stalwarts and brothers Shane and Thomas Clarke. Mike Aherne has been very quick to blood young talent but recognised that the squad needed experience to guide them along.
The recent capture of Shane Tracy was also eye-catching and the former Limerick FC man has settled in well. Reaching the last four of the Munster Junior Cup continues the club’s good run in major cup competition and winning the competition would be superb achievement for a rising club.
Considering the start that the team made in the league, a top half finish would be a success and they are just one point behind Geraldines in fourth. Home form has been crucial for the club throughout and the likes of Brendan O’Dwyer and Killian Maloney remain unsung heroes in an improving side.
Regional United: It has been a difficult 12 months for the club since last year’s FAI Junior Cup exit and saga. Losing a host of players, it was always going to be a season of transition in Dooradoyle which appears to be occurring every year.
Regional had a great opportunity to advance in the Munster Junior Cup but performed poorly on the day against Coachford and crashed out which was a major disappointment. Despite regular changes to personnel every season, Regional have always managed to finish in the top half of the table. One feels it is imperative that they follow suit this season but much like Geraldines, it will be difficult to motivate a squad who have no trophy left to play for.
The likes of Edmond O’Dwyer have performed well this year and with many youngsters looking to make a name for themselves at junior level, that should be motivation enough to ensure a top half finish.