Caulfield: we know it's gone now
Almost 30 points behind league leaders Dundalk, St Patrick's Athletic will clearly not be involved when the trophy is handed over at the end of this month.
But the Inchicore club could prove to be kingmakers in the 2016 season as their 3-1 win at home to a tired-looking Cork City last night, in front of a dismal Monday night crowd of just 369 paying punters, all but ended Cork's hopes of depriving Dundalk of a third successive league title.
Sam Verdon and Conan Byrne scored the goals in the last seven minutes, after Chris Fagan and Alan Bennett had traded goals in the first half, giving long-suffering Saints supporters something to smile about today.
Technically, Pat's could still make it into the Europa League at the expense of Shamrock Rovers, though that feat looks unlikely on paper, but it's clear that Pat's will have a big say in who plays in the Champions League next season, with fixtures still to come against Cork and Dundalk, the league possibly decided next weekend.
"It's gone now, we know that," said City boss John Caulfield. "We didn't have the energy we needed, losing to Dundalk last week left us behind."
Saints boss Liam Buckley. "We go to Cork on Friday and we'll try to win."
Cork and Pat's meet again in the league on Friday night and, should the Saints win at Turner's Cross, Dundalk will have retained the title. Even in the event of a draw on Friday, Stephen Kenny's side would take on Bohemians at home on Sunday knowing they could seal the deal with a week to spare.
Fans, sadly, voted with their feet last night, an official attendance of under 400 here a real cause for concern, despite the obvious lure of televised football from Anfield.
No goals there but we had four last night, and Pat's can feel proud of their part in this win. The gap between Pat's (who won their last league title three years ago today) and the leaders Dundalk will hurt, and a push for Europe will require Pat's winning all their remaining matches.
Wins had dried up for Pat's of late as they struggled to fill the void left by Fagan's scoring famine, though he did pop up with the right finish to give the Saints a surprise lead on 16 minutes last night, only his second league goal in six months.
Michael Barker set up the chance for Fagan and the Saints No. 9 was at his predatory best to slide his shot past Mark McNulty.
Cork, fully expecting Dundalk to win their game away to bottom side Longford, knew they could not afford to lose here and hand the leaders a seven-point lead with just three games to go, but it took them a while to get level.
Former Saint Kenny Browne saw his effort blocked off the line by Jamie McGrath just after Fagan's goal and Karl Sheppard was just over with a header from Greg Bolger's cross on 24 minutes.
Alan Bennett somehow failed to hit the target from point-blank range, Stephen Dooley providing the cross, but former Ireland cap Bennett made amends with the last act of the first half. Bennett rose higher than anyone else to get his head to Kevin O'Connor's cross and Brendan Clarke in the Saints goal was beaten.
Cork needed better after the break but a jaded-looking side struggled and paid the price. Sub Verdon beat McNulty with a fine effort on 83 minutes and in added time, Byrne scored from the spot after Greg Bolger felled the impressive Jamie McGrath in the box.
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