Wednesday 24 May 2017

Daniel McDonnell: The fines, the whines and the stories that made the LOI year

Robbie Benson’s first-time effort away to Legia Warsaw was stunning and grabs extra points because he produced it in a Champions League play-off. (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)
Robbie Benson’s first-time effort away to Legia Warsaw was stunning and grabs extra points because he produced it in a Champions League play-off. (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

There are no medals for the winners of these awards.

Top fine

When Athlone were unable to fulfil a fixture against Waterford because of monies owed to players, their punishment included a €5,000 fine (with €4,000 suspended).

Kenny Shiels made his mark on the pitch by improving a youthful Derry side, and his post-match interviews were box office. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Kenny Shiels made his mark on the pitch by improving a youthful Derry side, and his post-match interviews were box office. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

The FAI had to do something of course, but the First Division basement dwellers were in such a bad state that there was a tragicomic element to imposing a sanction that risked exacerbating cashflow issues.

Goal of the year

The year of the outrageous volley. Robbie Benson's first-time effort away to Legia Warsaw was stunning and grabs extra points because he produced it in a Champions League play-off.

But the best goal of 2016 was scored against Dundalk in Dalymount by a former player, with Bohs' Kurtis Byrne demonstrating perfect technique to twist and send a right-footer into the top corner while running away from goal. Find the clip.

Best stat

Six games into the First Division campaign, it was already apparent that Limerick were going to storm to the title. Why? Not only did they have 18 points from a possible 18, but they had dished out so many hammerings that every other club in the second tier had a negative goal difference.

Bray Wanderers manager Harry Kenny. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Bray Wanderers manager Harry Kenny. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Worst strategy

The triumphant announcement of a €5,000 grant for every club (to assist in the creation of five-year strategic plans) during the orgy of backslapping at the FAI AGM rebounded badly in light of grumbles about the funding and overall attitude from the top.

St Patrick's Athletic questioned the timing with a hard-hitting statement after a back and forth over their decision to reject it. The strongest opinion expressed? "What prevails with the FAI is an approach whereby it decides everything and where it dictates policy with the occasional PR flurry to try and create a public image that its senior executives are committed to change and to improvement."

In the end, the 'good news' story poked the bear.

Most entertaining newcomer

Kenny Shiels made his mark on the pitch by improving a youthful Derry side, and his post-match interviews were box office.

Chris Shields in action for Dundalk. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile
Chris Shields in action for Dundalk. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

He accused officials of being on Facebook during games, insinuated that a cup semi-final draw was pre-determined and described the Irish national team as England's reserves. And Northern Ireland's as England's reserves' reserves. And that was only in the last month.

Unlikely hero

Harry Kenny has spent his life working in Irish football at a variety of levels after a successful playing career as part of Shamrock Rovers' four-in-a-row team.

In recent years, he was viewed as a No 2, a serious asset to any backroom staff. Mick Cooke's departure from Bray gave 'H' the chance to show what he could do as a No 1 at League of Ireland level. He grabbed the opportunity to make Bray the form team in the second half of the season. Interesting times lie ahead for the 54-year-old.

Most improved player

When Martin O'Neill came into the Dundalk dressing-room after their win over BATE Borisov in August, he told Chris Shields he was one of his favourite players but joked that he would be even better if he could pass the ball properly.

Shields laughed while agreeing that it was a fair point, yet a striking feature of the second half of Dundalk's season is that his distribution has greatly improved. He's an accomplished performer now.

Recency bias can influence these things but the second half of Friday’s promotion/relegation play-off between Drogheda United and Wexford Youths was utterly bonkers. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Recency bias can influence these things but the second half of Friday’s promotion/relegation play-off between Drogheda United and Wexford Youths was utterly bonkers. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Twitter storm 1

"If I had of stayed another week I probably wud of had to pay in"

Gavin Brennan's days at Shamrock Rovers were numbered when Stephen Bradley took control but he really did speed up his departure by using Twitter to voice his displeasure at the stand-in manager's policy of blooding youngsters at the expense of senior pros.

Brennan continued to banter away about Bradley for the rest of the campaign while also managing to engage in some remarkably small-time slanging matches with supporters. It made Bradley's decision look like a wise one.

Outstanding programme notes

The Chilcot Enquiry, the OJ Simpson case, Brexit and Bishop Edward Daly all featured in Stephen Kenny's considered pieces, which are a step up from the usual 'And a warm welcome to the manager, players and supporters of. . .' type effort.

Topical PA announcement

"Dundalk play away to Derry next week. No passport required for that just yet."

The PA at Oriel Park was on message with the Brexit reference too.

Crowd failures

The dip in St Patrick's Athletic's attendances was alarming, particularly that infamous 369 for the rearranged Monday night fixture with Cork City.

According to the work of extratime.ie, they were one of four top flight clubs whose average fell below the 1,000 mark. Disappointingly, top flight newcomers Wexford Youths didn't break the 1,000 barrier for any league match. They deserved better in an attempt to break new ground in a relatively untapped area.

Inflammatory speech

Cork enjoyed their win on Sunday after three years of listening to Dundalk plaudits, and goalkeeper Mark McNulty articulated that sentiment in a reception back in Leeside on Sunday night.

To the sound of cheers, he let rip in an expletive ridden speech. "There wasn't one pundit that gave us a f**king chance," he roared. "It's Dundalk this, Dundalk that. They've done well in Europe. Well we went three rounds in f*cking Europe. There's no-one saying anything about f**king Cork."

This rivalry is brewing up nicely.

And it's goodbye to...

A gruesome injury - the loss of a finger - accelerated Kevin McHugh's planned retirement after long service to Finn Harps. Barry Molloy also finished up after helping Harps stay up, but his best days were at Derry. Stephen McPhail has quit playing to become sporting director at Shamrock Rovers. Pat Flynn signed off in style with a spectacular retirement statement that was the best thing to come out of Longford's season.

The best trip of their lives

The Dundalk fans whose bus broke down on the side of the M1 were in danger of missing their flight to Holland for the Europa League opener with AZ Alkmaar. They were saved when the team bus spotted them and pulled over, with Stephen Kenny encouraging the small band to squeeze aboard and travel to the airport with them.

Thrilling game

Recency bias can influence these things but the second half of Friday's promotion/relegation play-off between Drogheda United and Wexford Youths was utterly bonkers. Drogheda's successful comeback from a two-goal first-leg deficit was packed with drama, controversy, near misses, chaos and confusion.

Twitter storm 2

"Looks like Stephen Kenny & Dundalk have chucked the towel in on the League #NoIntegrity."

Sligo boss Dave Robertson sent jaws dropping when Dundalk took the chance to finally rest some legs after winning the league.

He was the only man in the country who couldn't understand as St Pat's - who were trying to get closer to fifth-placed Sligo - went 4-0 up in the first half of a dead rubber against a B team.

The normal run of things these days is that a manager sanctions a player for daft social media posts. But when the manager is the culprit? The times they are a-changing. Who knows what 2017 will bring.

Irish Independent

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