O'Neill: Fans vital to Hoops' title tilt
MICHAEL O'Neill has appealed to Shamrock Rovers supporters to get behind the team today as they close in on a first league title in 16 years.
League leaders Rovers welcome Sporting Fingal to Tallaght Stadium today (3.0), but the Hoops will know before kick-off whether second place Bohemians -- two points behind at the start of the day -- have closed the gap as the Gypsies are in action two hours earlier.
And O'Neill feels that the Rovers support could play a vital role in a tricky game against a Fingal side who have ambitions of a top-three finish and European qualification.
"This is going to be a big, big game, and a big test for our players," said O'Neill. "But it is one I feel the squad will be able to pass. I expect us to have a huge, noisy support there, and I think that will be very important for us. The crowd can make a big difference in a game like this.
"I'd urge all our fans to get to the ground early and give the team everything they have. The players will be going out there to give it their all and get the win. And they thrive on getting that back from the fans too, as they have on so many occasions this year."
Rovers regroup after a run of three defeats in four games -- very untypical form for a side which went unbeaten for 17 games before that 5-1 loss to Dundalk, and O'Neill knows that his side have to forget Tuesday's derby loss to Bohs.
"It was disappointing to lose the game, both because it was a derby and also it was a great chance to get even further ahead at the top," he said. "But we pushed and pushed, and just couldn't get an equaliser on the night. I can't fault the players; they gave their all on the night. The league is still in our own hands, we are two points ahead and we are still fully intent on winning it."
Rovers have failed to beat Fingal in three meetings this season and Sporting boss Liam Buckley, a former Rovers player and manager of course, says his side enjoy their trips to Tallaght Stadium.
"Tallaght Stadium has brought the best out of my teams in the past and we're looking forward to taking Shamrock Rovers on, given the stakes for both teams," Buckley said as the Ravens try to push St Pat's and Sligo Rovers for that third-place finish. "We still have the game in hand over Pats and Sligo above us, but it's about getting points on the board now."
Apart from the title chase and the race for Europe there are other issues at stake today, with Galway United almost certainly condemned to the relegation play-off if they lose at home to UCD.
"This is the biggest game Galway United have had in 15 years and I appeal to all sports people in Galway to come out and support us if they are serious about having top-flight football in the city next season," said Galway manager Sean Connor.
And there's also a busy day in store in Division One, with in-form Shelbourne heading north to take on Derry City in a game that will have a large bearing on the First Division title and the single automatic promotion slot.
Derry have been topping the table all season but their lead has been slashed back in recent weeks as Stephen Kenny's side have managed just two wins in the last nine games, while Shelbourne, under Alan Mathews, look like a team reborn with five straight wins.
Waterford United and Monaghan United could still have a say in the title, but the winner of the Derry-Shels tie in the Brandywell this evening (6.0) could well end up as champions.
"We're not out of it yet, our destiny remains in our own hands and it's important that we re-group, pull together towards the one end and finish the season on a high," said Derry boss Kenny.
SHAMROCK ROVERS v SPORTING FINGAL,
LIVE TODAY, SETANTA IRELAND (KO 3.0)