With top two Drogheda and St Pats — who meet tonight at Richmond Park — having already secured Champions League and UEFA qualifying positions, Cork City and Bohemians will fight it for a berth in the Intertoto Cup.
At the other end of the table, battling Longford Town have one last chance to avoid the automatic drop, while Waterford United — who are also threatened with immediate relegation — will be hoping to leapfrog Bray and UCD to avoid being sucked into a relegation play-off.
Turner’s Cross is the venue for what is effectively the third-place decider, as Cork City host Bohemians having recently dumped them out of the FAI Ford Cup at the semi-final stage. The RTÉ cameras will be on hand as will legendary Leeside rockers the Frank And Walters who will entertain the crowd during the half-time interval.
For the rival managers, however, it’s the 90 minutes of action that counts, with Cork requiring the win to edge ahead and Bohs, by virtue of their superior goal difference, needing only a draw.
Not that manager Sean Connor is travelling south with the aim of shutting up shop.
“A draw would be a good result,” he concedes, “but we can’t afford to give Cork the impetus in this game. They are too good a team, as we saw to our cost two weeks ago. From the beginning, I have targeted a top four position. We are third at the moment and that is where I want to be at the end of the campaign.”
Bohs skipper Stephen Hunt misses tonight’s game through suspension and striker Darren Mansaram is a doubt having twisted his knee against Longford last week.
Cork City may have a fallback route to Europe via the Cup but manager Damien Richardson makes clear that victory tonight is vital for a number of reasons.
“The importance of the game is obvious,” he says. “Both Cork City and Bohemians want third place, both as a matter of pride and also for the prize of Intertoto Cup qualification. Also, from our point of view it is important we play to our full potential as a way of thanking the supporters for their support.”
Going into the game, Richardson’s biggest concern relates to his side’s attacking threat, with Leon McSweeney — tormentor-in-chief of Bohs in the Cup — suspended, and John O’Flynn ruled out with a groin injury. And with winger Liam Kearney struggling with a calf injury, Richardson will be looking to striker Denis Behan to show more of the goalscoring touch which has been such a feature of his play in the run-in to the end of the season.
For Waterford United, tonight could end with automatic relegation, a place in the relegation play-offs or confirmation of another season in the Premier Division. Little wonder than that manager Gareth Cronin is hoping the Blues have saved the best until last when they face the Hoops at Tolka Park.
“We have been beaten just once in the last eight games and we need one more major performance from the lads,” he says. “Our season was always going to come down to the wire and this is a massive game. I hope we get the result that keeps us safe and while we’ll have an ear to the games elsewhere, they won’t matter unless we do the business.”
The other games of which Cronin speaks see UCD away to Galway United and Bray Wanderers at home to Sligo Rovers.
Both UCD and Bray are on 31 points, just two ahead of Waterford, and the two clubs will be as desperate to avoid defeat as the Blues will be to grab three points on what is bound to be a nerve-wracking last full night of a long league campaign.