SSE Airtricity Premier Division Final Week – What’s at Stake?

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Heading into the final week of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division, there is still a lot on the line. A global pandemic has impacted the world of sport in 2020. Football as we know it has changed, for now, and the Airtricity League is no different.

The season was brought to a halt in March as restrictions across the country heightened. Fast forward to August and football was back in Ireland, this time without the fans. A decision was made to decrease the number of games by half. So here we are in November about to embark on the final week of the season. The decrease in fixtures has led to an increase in excitement for the neutrals.

Seven out of ten team have something to play for as they head towards the finish line. To put this into context, there is a five point gap between fourth and eighth place. As the season came to a climax last year, this gap was five times bigger, at twenty points.

So what’s at stake for each team?

Shamrock Rovers crowned Champions

Shamrock Rovers will lift the 2020 SSE Airtricity League title on Wednesday evening after their penultimate league game against St. Patrick’s Athletic. Rovers have been a dominant force this season, remaining unbeaten with impressive wins over Dundalk, Sligo Rovers and their arch rivals Bohemians since the league restarted. It has been a long time coming for the Hoops who have not lifted a league title since 2011.

Republic of Ireland international Jack Byrne has been pivotal in their success, with eight goals to his name this season. It will be manager Stephen Bradley’s priority to keep the midfielder in Tallaght for next season, with reports that Rovers have already made Byrne a ‘fantastic’ contract offer. That being said, after another impressive season, interest from abroad seems inevitable.

Ahead of Wednesday’s clash against St. Pat’s, Shamrock Rovers have appealed for fans not to gather outside Tallaght Stadium in accordance with current COVID-19 restrictions.

Relegation Battle

At the other end of the table, Cork City have been relegated to the First Division. The 2017 Champions have endured a fall from grace in recent seasons, and head into their final game seven points adrift at the bottom of the league.

Finn Harps’ survival hopes were dented by Shamrock Rovers as they lost 2-0 on Sunday. The Donegal side need a win against fourth placed Waterford on Sunday evening to give themselves any chance of staying up. They also need to rely on results elsewhere, namely Shelbourne and Derry City.

Derry City were looking comfortable after a convincing win against Shelbourne at the end of October took them up to fifth in the league. However since then things haven’t gone as planned. Following an outbreak of COVID-19 cases within their squad, the club entered a 14-day isolation period and therefore failed to play their scheduled clash against Shamrock Rovers. A forfeit and subsequent 3-0 loss could be on the cards for Derry, who will likely appeal any potential decision.

Similar to Derry, Shelbourne also find themselves at the wrong end of the table following a run of only three wins from thirteen matches since the restart. Shels take on Rovers on the final day. Despite the fact the league has been won, Rovers still have the added incentive of an unbeaten campaign to play for. Both Shels and Derry sit on 19 points, two points ahead of Finn Harps.

The final occupiers of ninth spot will face either Galway United or Longford Town in the relegation/promotion play-off.

European Qualification

A bitter-sweet moment for Bohemians who will finish the season in second place, their highest league position since 2010. Dundalk’s draw with St. Pat’s on Sunday wasn’t enough to claim their spot for European football next season. They need a point against Sligo Rovers on Sunday to secure third place.

That leaves Waterford, Sligo Rovers and St. Pat’s in a final battle for the potential last European spot. Waterford travel to Finn Harps. With a lot at stake for both team, it’s set to be an exciting game. After heartbreakingly missing out on Europa League football in 2019 due to a UEFA technicality, Waterford will be hoping for an upturn in their fortunes this time round.

Although St. Pat’s are four points behind Waterford, they have the added advantage of an extra game in hand. That being said it won’t be easy for the Dublin side as they face champions Rovers before playing runners up Bohs on the final day. Two losses and they might be heading for a relegation play-off if other scores don’t go their way. A prime example of how congested the table is.

Likewise, Sligo Rovers also finish with a tricky trip to Oriel Park to take on Dundalk. Now there’s the added caveat of the FAI Cup. With Shamrock Rovers, Bohs, and Dundalk still in the competition, they will form an orderly queue as strong favourites to lift the cup. However, if Sligo Rovers (albeit they get a bye into the quarter finals after Derry City failed to play the game), Finn Harps or Athlone Town manage to cause an upset, then fourth spot becomes irrelevant. The FAI Cup winners head for Europe.

If that was too much to digest, you can find the full league table ahead of this weeks’ fixtures here. It is set to be a thrilling end to an abnormal season.

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