Tuesday 30 May 2017

Coleman tops end of season honours list

Everton star delivered and Long was liberated, but some Irish stars will rue the past season

Seamus Coleman
Seamus Coleman
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

AS the Irish footballers who delayed their holidays head off on their summer break, it seems appropriate to reflect on the developments of the past 10 months.

It has turned out to be a season of surprises.

After all, who would have imagined last August that a player who had yet to start a Premier League game would go on to be the outstanding Irishman of the season, that Robbie Keane would taste relegation, or that Shay Given wouldn't be involved in a single minute of top-flight action?

Considering he was voted onto the PFA team for the previous campaign, few could have envisaged that Richard Dunne would go on to be threatened with the sack by Aston Villa, or that the most impressive Irish performer in European competition would be plying his trade in Moscow.

Certainly, nobody would have predicted that Paul McShane would end up as the captain of an Irish side storming to a 2-0 victory over Italy.

But that's how the dice have rolled, in a rollercoaster period for Irish players that ended on a high, with optimism that we will be preparing for a trip to Poland and Ukraine in 12 months time.



BEST PLAYER

The shortlist for PFA Young Player of the Year was star-studded. Gareth Bale, Samir Nasri, Nani, Jack Wilshere, Joe Hart and Javier Hernandez were all involved in a battle for Champions League and/or Premier League honours.

However, the other member of the nominees list was a quietly spoken talent from Donegal who was lining out for a club that spent a large part of their campaign out of the limelight.

Seamus Coleman made his first Premier League start against Fulham last September, and never looked back.

Converted into a right winger by David Moyes, the ex-Sligo Rovers star hit the ground running and revelled in terrorising opposition full-backs.

He even managed to wind up Ashley Cole, which is no bad thing.

The 22-year-old took a little bit longer to win over Giovanni Trapattoni, but a disciplined display in Belgium during the week illustrated maturity.

With more room for improvement, the sky is the limit.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

Some Reading fans wanted rid of Shane Long at the start of the season. After the Royals' play-off final loss to Swansea last Monday week, they are now resigned to his departure for higher plains.

The Tipperary native always had the raw ability, but struggled to consistently deliver. Last autumn, the penny dropped, with an injury-free run in the team adding goals which, in turn, boosted confidence.

Long scored 25 goals for Reading in the Championship, and became an extremely important option for his country, almost inspiring a comeback in the crunch qualifier with Russia at the Aviva Stadium. He will be sold to the highest bidder this summer.

An honourable mention in this category goes to Jon Walters, who was a slow starter at Stoke but was excellent after Christmas, including a brace in the 5-0 FA Cup semi-final thrashing of Bolton.

MOST IMPORTANT INTERNATIONAL GOAL

Considering that Slovakia and Russia have both subsequently dropped points in Yerevan, Ireland's victory in the Armenian capital grew more significant in hindsight. Trapattoni's side had suffered a couple of nervous moments before Kevin Doyle battled in the opposition area to win a Liam Lawrence delivery and the loose ball fell to substitute Keith Fahey, who smashed home his first Irish goal.

It could prove to be extremely important.

MOST IMPORTANT CLUB GOAL

Conor Sammon started his season at Kilmarnock where, in his first two campaigns, he had failed to hit double figures.

The Dubliner had more in him, however, and banged in 18 goals between August and January to secure a switch to Wigan.

He had to bide his time before coming off the bench in the Latics' penultimate game to grab an equaliser as they came from behind to clinch a 3-2 win over West Ham. Wigan would go on to avoid the drop.

Stephen Hunt's last-day strike for Wolves seemed equally crucial for his employers, although a late Birmingham concession at Tottenham wiped its significance from the record books.

LANDMARK MOMENT

For all their struggles at club level, it was the old reliables who came through for Trapattoni for the testing trip to Macedonia.

Given was inspired between the sticks, but it was Keane who understandably grabbed the headlines.

A double strike took the Tallaght man to 51 goals for his country -- more than any other international player in Britain or Ireland. The European record of 65 is now in his sights.

FALL FROM GRACE

Liam Lawrence was a starting member of the Irish side in Armenia -- unsurprisingly given his excellent conclusion to the ill-fated attempts to make the World Cup in South Africa.

He kept his place for the visit of Russia in October, when Ireland were torn apart and he offered little defensive cover for an outnumbered central midfield.

Unofficially, Lawrence seems to have shouldered the blame. He was dropped for the trip to Slovakia and failed to impress in the end-of-season games where he looked sluggish. Indeed, he was an unused substitute in Liege, with Coleman given a 90-minute run-out.

EUROPEAN STAR

Aiden McGeady badly needed a move from Celtic, yet there were eyebrows raised when he chose a lucrative switch to Spartak Moscow. Sceptics wondered if the homebird would adapt to such a different environment.

McGeady proved them wrong by settling in quickly to his new surrounds, and sampling life in the Champions League and then the Europa League.

A brilliant Porto side eventually ended his dreams of making the final of that competition in Dublin, but not before the 25-year-old was inspirational in the dismantling of Ajax.

His best is yet to come.

NEEDS A MOVE

Too many to mention. Keane and Given must escape their situations, although a change of management could have a positive impact on Dunne.

Relegation from the Championship is no harm for Sean St Ledger as it means that Preston -- who have played hardball in the past -- have no option but to sell.

Keith Treacy will also leave Deepdale, while strong international showings should ensure that Darren O'Dea can take control of his club situation.

Long will move on, while it might be time for Kevin Doyle to explore his options beyond Wolves.

Trapattoni will be happy if Sunderland are successful in their pursuit of Darron Gibson. John O'Shea's situation is a curious one, though.

WORK TO DO

After their absence from the end-of-season matches left Trapattoni unconvinced, James McCarthy, Marc Wilson and Gibson will have to answer the Italian's call in August or else they face a stint in the international wilderness.

At least they have the cushion of secure Premier League futures to fall back on.

On the other hand, Anthony Stokes said he was 'too tired' to link up with the Irish party, despite spending the latter half of his campaign on the Celtic bench. It could prove to be a very costly decision.

Irish Independent

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