But even if Stephen Kenny’s team come out on top at the Carlisle Grounds, second-placed Cork City can still ensure the race goes to a winner-takes-all decider at Oriel Park next week by beating Bohemians at Turner’s Cross.
And there are other permutations. Anything less than a win for Dundalk would also set up a grand finale in seven days’ time as, of course, would defeats for both the Lilywhites and the Leesiders.
However, in the event of Dundalk winning in Bray, a draw would not be enough for Cork, since the resulting three-point difference ahead of next week’s meeting would effectively be rendered irrelevant by Dundalk’s plus-20 goal difference.
With things so deliciously tight at the top of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division, the bottom line is this: both Cork and Dundalk have it in their own hands to win the league.
With their single point advantage, Dundalk have the relative luxury of knowing that they can’t actually lose the title tonight. But not so Cork. In addition, City will be coming up against their bogey team this season, John Caulfield’s men having failed to beat Bohemians on four occasions.
And that’s something Bohs boss Owen Heary thinks could have a psychological impact as Cork prepare for their final home game in what should be an electric atmosphere.
“We know there’s going to be a big crowd there, and they’re vying for the title but there will be a bit of doubt in their minds from the fact that they haven’t beaten us this season,” he says. “They’re a physical team, they’re strong, and they’ll go out to win the game. But the three points are as vital to us as they are to them. We want to move up the table.”
Heary has a weakened squad, however, missing Aidan Price and Paddy Kavanagh through suspension and Derek Pender (calf) and Dan Byrne (cruciate) through injury, while Roberto Lopes, who has exams to sit this evening, is also unavailable. On the plus side for the Gypsies, Kevin Devaney returns from injury and Dave Mulcahy is back from suspension.
City too are not without injury concerns, with Josh O’Shea and Gearóid Morrissey rated doubtful, but manager John Caulfield’s pre-match emphasis is all about accentuating the positive and going for the win that would guarantee a title decider in Dundalk next week.
“We know that if we don’t take the points tonight, then it won’t go to the last game,” he says. “We know that if we do, then it will, and that is all you can ask for. Every week has been like a cup final, because we knew we couldn’t afford to drop any points.
“Dundalk are still in a better position than us, and we know that if we drop points tonight, then the league is over. We’ve known that for a few weeks and we have kept winning. There’ll be a fantastic crowd at Turner’s Cross and it is really important that we give a good performance and make sure we bring it to the last game of the season.”
Meanwhile, Dundalk will be bringing a big support of their own as they take on a Bray Wanderers side who, for their part, will be looking for the result that would ensure their Premier Division survival.
Lilywhites defender Dane Massey, who was yesterday named the SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland Player of the Month for September, believes the leaders’ quality will come to the fore again in front of the RTÉ cameras at the Carlisle Grounds..
“The most important thing for now is just to focus on our own game and not worry about anyone else,” he says. “We know we play the best football in the league. It’s still in our hands with two games to go. Bray away isn’t going to be easy but the important thing is we get over that and then look at Cork at home. We’re confident. We know we can beat anyone.”
* Tonight’s other Premier Division games are: St Pat’s v Athlone; Limerick v Sligo; Drogheda v Shamrock Rovers and Derry v UCD. In the First Division, Galway host Shelbourne in the first leg of their promotion play-off.
All games kick off at 7.45pm.