SO CLOSE, they can just about see the finishing line.
Shamrock Rovers can retain their Premier Division title as early as Monday week, with a game to spare in the 2011 championship race, thanks to last night's 1-0 win over Derry City, which saw Rohan Ricketts earning himself a place in Rovers folklore with the crucial goal of the game.
A month ago the title race was shaping up to be an intriguing battle with no less than five teams in contention at one stage. But over time the challenges from Bohemians and St Patrick's Athletic faded, and last night the light went out on Derry's faint title hopes as only Sligo Rovers can now have any chance of taking the crown away from Rovers.
The Hoops are now four points ahead with two games to go and a win away to UCD on Monday week -- a game refixed from the usual Friday night date due to the Hoops' involvement in the Europa League next week at Greek side PAOK -- will seal the title, making the final game of the season, at home to bottom side Galway United, a party night.
"This was a big, big game for us and it was important that we got a result," said Londoner Ricketts.
"We needed to get a result. It was very important that we didn't lose the game so to win it was just a huge bonus. It was a very tight game. Maybe they could have taken the lead in the first half but we rode the storm and got the win.
"We were under pressure in the first half and maybe that anxiety crept into the team. We were at home and the onus was on us to go and win the game, people expect us to win the title. So in the second half the gaffer just said to us to go out and win the game and we did," added Ricketts.
Derry have caused some problems for Rovers this season. City taking five points from a possible nine in the previous meeting and it seemed as it they'd cause more difficulties again last night.
The game, Derry's title hopes and the title race overall could have been a lot different if the Candystripes had made their first-half play count in the form of a goal, and they went very, very close indeed as Eamon Zayed's header, from a Daniel Lafferty cross, came off the crossbar.
A half-time chat from Michael O'Neill seemed to calm the nerves and Rovers looked a lot brighter after the restart, taking the lead four minutes into the second half from Ricketts.
Richard Brush sent a long punt upfield, it seemed as if it was easy for Derry defender Stewart Greacen to pass it back to his keeper or to clear it but he got caught in two minds, Ricketts stole in and lobbed the ball over Ger Doherty.
Doherty earned his corn later on with saves from Craig Sives and Ronan Finn as Rovers came out on top.
The 'inconvenience' of a Europa League group stage game in Greece now comes between them and that date in the Belfield Bowl where a win will see them crowned champions again.