Letterkenny Rovers captain Darren McElwaine believes the 4 Lanterns Ulster Senior League title is still Cockhill Celtic’s ‘to lose’.
The League’s top two teams go head-to-head on Sunday at the Aura Leisure Centre (kick-off 2pm) with Rovers hoping to breathe new life into the title race.
The games comes after Cockhill suffered a shock defeat to Swilly Rovers on Sunday, going down 3-2 at the Charlie O’Donnell Sports Grounds.
Gavin Cullen’s side, champions in each of the last four seasons, will head for the Cathedral Town six points ahead of Rovers, but knowing that a second defeat in as many games could wobble their title defence.
While Cockhill lost to Swilly, Rovers’ 3-1 home win against Fanad means they enter Sunday’s meeting with a chance to now significantly close the gap.
“All it has done is give us a small chance,” experienced striker McElwaine says.
“We have a chance to open it up a bit. I’m sure Bonagee and Fanad will be looking at it too. It’s not often they’d be shouting for Rovers, but they will be this weekend.
“For me, the League is Cockhill’s to lose still. We’re at home, though, and we have to win this. Cockhill have a chance of two results because a win or a draw will do them, but we need the win.
“We’re looking forward to it. Games against them have always been tight and this will be no different – but we have to give it our all and see where we are on Monday morning.”
Following a 3-3 draw at Finn Harps Reserves in November, Letterkenny manager Eamon McConigley appeared to give up on his team’s title prospects.
Rovers have lost only once in the League this season – to Bonagee United – but have dropped some frustrating points along the way.
Rovers scored twice against Cockhill, Swilly and Fanad and netted three times against Harps, but didn’t win any of those fixtures.
“Our problem has been conceding – we’ve not kept a clean sheet all season,” McElwaine, who skippered Rovers to last year’s FAI Intermediate Cup final, says.
“We’ve no excsues for that. We threw away some silly points. We collapsed against Harps and were lucky to even get a point; we were two up against Swilly and should have been more streetwise; and we didn’t do ourselves justice agianst Bonagee.”
Cockhill have been the picture of consistency in the USL in recent seasons. Champions in the last four seasons, the Inishowen side have led the way for the rest.
McElwaine says: “I’ve played in many combinations of Rovers teams in the last few years, but Cockhill have rarely changed; they have that same core of players.
“They probably haven’t had that many better players than we’ve had, but they’ve had the same backbone pretty much. That means a lot when games are tight and men will really dig in.
“They’re going to be hurt from Sunday’s defeat and will be coming all guns blazing this weekeend.”
Many feel that Rovers have been suffering a hangover of sorts from their Intermediate Cup campaign, but McElwaine says: “We’ve good players in the dressing room. We’ve added the likes of Chris Sweeney in goals, who’s an amateur international; Conor Tourish has come in and been excellent; Paul McVeigh and Paul Boyle are in really good form.
“But all this weekend is for us is a small chance. We have to take the chance and we have to win the game.
“We had a good tussle with Fanad on Sunday. It’s good to see Fanad back strong. There are a lot of good teams in the League there now – hopefully we can make it interesting now over the next few weeks and months.”