By Ronan Murphy
October 13, 2012. Sligo Rovers sealed the Airtricity Premier Division title with a 3-2 win over St Patrick's Athletic thanks to a last minute penalty. Exactly one year on, the roles were reversed as the Saints lifted the title with a win over the Bit o' Red. Unlike the 2012 tie, there was no late drama, as Liam Buckley's side cruised to victory, guaranteeing themselves their first League of Ireland trophy in 14 years.
Like Sligo before them, Pat's clinched the title with games remaining, and looked destined to be named champions half-way through the season. Dundalk, Sligo Rovers, and Derry City all challenged, but could not keep up with the Inchicore side, who went top after 15 games, and more or less remained there for the remainder of the season.
Pat's started slowly as Sligo looked to continue their form of 2012, while the Richmond Park pitch impeded their early progress, causing two postponements due to waterlogging in the first four games. However, once Buckley's side got going, they racked up a 13 game unbeaten run, which included a 4-0 win over Shelbourne and 5-0 drubbing of UCD.
The Saints were known for their slick movement in the 2012 season, and many felt that inexperience was the main reason they didn't really challenge Sligo for the title. This year, Buckley was able to retain most of his starting XI, while new additions Killian Brennan, Stephen Maher, and Conan Byrne easily blended into Pat's patient passing game.
While many other teams had numerous personnel changes, St Pat's were much the same team as last season, albeit an older, more determined outfit. Buckley's charges didn't make much progress in the cup competitions, but with the focus on the league, the Inchicore support had no reason to complain. The cups merely proved a distraction for other teams - as challengers Dundalk found out with two first-teamers sent off in the FAI Cup ahead of this weekend's crucial league tie.
The one black spot on the Saints' season was their disappointing Europa League exit at the hands of VMFD Zalgiris. After returning from Lithuania with a deserved 2-2 draw, Pat's looked off the pace in Dublin, going down 2-1 thanks to goals either side of half-time.
However, next season's European adventure will be a much bigger deal as they return to the Uefa Champions League for the first time since the 99-00 season, where Zimbru Chisinau racked up a 10-0 aggregate victory. This time around, the Saints' style of play should be much better suited to the rigours of continental football, while Buckley will be able to encourage some talented players to join the champions over their League of Ireland rivals.
Keeping hold of their best players may prove a challenge, as the likes of Chris Forrester and Christy Fagan are on the radar of cross-channel clubs, and the chequebook of Dublin rivals Shamrock Rovers could be opened to poach some of their stars - as happened with James Chambers last season.
Having been the best team in the league, both on the pitch and on the points table, St Patrick's Athletic fully deserve their league title. Sligo Rovers couldn't make it two-in-a-row this season, but few would bet against Liam Buckley repeating the feat in 2014.