AS IF dominating the league wasn’t enough, St Patrick’s Athletic have received a further boost with the news that Alan Kirby has been named the eircom/Soccer Writers Player of the Month for March.
The midfielder, who has been central to the Inchicore’s side unbeaten start to the season, is now setting his sights on tonight’s meeting with Bohemians at Richmond Park.
"It’s my first Dublin derby," says the former Aston Villa, Waterford United and Longford Town man. "I’ve watched a lot of them but I’m looking forward to being involved and sampling the atmosphere. We’ve started the season well and we’re hoping to keep that run going but this is going to be an awkward test."
Bohemians, gradually getting into their stride after a faltering start, will be looking to put a stop to a Pat’s gallop which has seen the club gain maximum league points from five games while securing their semi-final berth in the Setanta Cup.
Bohs boss Sean Connor has Harpal Singh, Liam Burns and John Paul Kelly all available, giving him a pleasant selection headache.
"Having a full squad for the first time is fantastic," he says. "While it makes for some difficult decisions there is not a manager who would have it any other way. We are on a three game winning run and the players who took part in those games did exceptionally well — players coming back from injury may have to wait to win a place in the starting line-up."
Two points behind Pat’s in second place, Drogheda United are at home to Sligo Rovers with Stephen Gray available after nearly a month on the sidelines. Behind Drogheda, Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and Bohs are together on 10 points, meaning that tonight’s meeting of the Rebels and the Hoops at Turner’s Cross has added significance in the chase to keep pace with the Premier Division pacesetters.
Cork, fresh from their 4-1 trouncing of Derry are expected to have keeper Michael Devine and striker John O’Flynn available, despite both suffering knocks at The Brandywell. Manager Damien Richardson, himself a famous Hoop of yesteryear, is especially looking forward to tonight’s game.
"It’s great to have Shamrock Rovers back in the Premier Division," he says. "I expect we’ll have a big crowd at Turner’s Cross, as games against Rovers always produce a terrific atmosphere. But our wonderful win in Derry will be diluted if we don’t win against what is likely to be a well-organised, talented and enthusiastic Shamrock Rovers side."
The good news for the visitors is that their injury list has shortened with only skipper Aidan Price and long-term casualty Paul Shiles definitely out of tonight’s game. The chances of Danny O’Connor and Andy Myler starting are, however, rated as no better than 50-50 by manager Pat Scully.
Beaten only once in the league since their return to the top flight, Rovers go into tonight’s game full of confidence.
"After losing against Bohs, in the manner in which they did, the players’ reaction has been fantastic," says the Rovers boss. "Once we keep doing what we’ve been doing recently, I think we’ll be fine in Cork."
Struggling Derry City will be hoping to pick up points away to a Waterford United side still smarting from last week’s 3-0 defeat at UCD.
"The players were extremely disappointed with themselves," says Blues manager Gareth Cronin. "A lot of soul-searching has been done but now the mood is upbeat and there is a realisation that there is a need to turn this around as quickly as possible."
In tonight’s other Premier Division fixtures — all of which kick off at 7.45pm — Galway United host Longford Town and UCD host Bray Wanderers.