Thursday 29 September 2016

Daniel McDonnell's League of Ireland end of season awards

Published 09/11/2015 | 02:30

BJ Banda of Finn Harps
BJ Banda of Finn Harps

The final whistle in the cup final signals the beginning of the long winter.

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Negative thinking borne from the financial climate - rather than the weather - means that the League of Ireland has one of the longest off-seasons in Europe and the ludicrously long break allows ample time for recollection on the season just gone.

As the award circuit kicks into gear, here's one take on the 2015 campaign . . .

Leading Player

It's not just about the goals, but Richie Towell scored 25 times in the league from midfield for Dundalk, a return that left him a dozen clear of the chasing pack. Towell is a phenomenon and, while he's by no means certain to depart, his marketable confident streak and talent will be missed if he gets a deserved opportunity at a higher level. His colleague Daryl Horgan can also go far.

Exciting Newcomer

Brandon Miele was Shamrock Rovers' outstanding player in his first season at Tallaght and, already, the ex-Newcastle youth looks a solid bet to join the long list of players that used this league to boost morale before heading back across the water. Another to watch is skilful St Patrick's Athletic attacker Jamie McGrath who has tricks that can help to fill the void left by the inevitable departure of Chris Forrester.

Managerial Achievement

The atmosphere in the Dundalk dressing room ensured they had the desire to pick up from where they left off and steamroll their way to an emphatic league win. That's a testament to the environment that Stephen Kenny has created at the border club. Keith Long has to be mentioned here too, given his transformation of Bohemians on a meagre budget.

Rollercoaster Story

Limerick. What can you say? After 0 wins in 21, they went on a run that brought life back to their spiritual home in Markets Field. Their last-day success in Sligo to make the play-off prompted scenes of unbridled joy and thousands flocked to the first leg of their showdown with Finn Harps. Four days later they were relegated.

Unlikely Hero

Billy Junior Banda, the teenager that downed Limerick on Friday, is still at school in Raphoe and was only drafted into the Harps squad recently to make up the numbers. Banda, who was born in Johannesburg but moved to Ireland with his family as a child, came off the bench to replace the veteran Kevin McHugh and write his name into the history books with an extra-time winner.

Top Prank

Cult hero Pat Flynn stole the show this season when his club, Longford, sent out a routine update from their Leinster Senior Cup tie with Shamrock Rovers. "Is this a joke...have we a match tonight?" he replied, duly sending social media wild as he detailed a fictional journey; not every follower realised he was injured.

Tweet of the Year 1

"The day after we lost 6-0 to Dundalk 8 lads just didn't bother to show up training.. That was the day we got relegated. No fight no passion" - On the night Drogheda United were relegated, skipper Mick Daly blew open the lid on their dressing-room issues.

Humble Pie Moment

UCD exceeded all expectations to progress through a round in the Europa League, perform with distinction against Slovan Bratislava and bank a fortune by their standards.

Best Announcement

With the regular PA man away, the stand-in for a Bohemians match in July decided to make the most of his role by asking the Dalymount Park crowd if anyone had a Samsung phone charger that he could borrow for 20 minutes. Top marks for quick thinking.

Superfan

League of Ireland clubs are no longer surprised when the call comes to say that the President will be attending their Friday night fixture. In Dublin, the message from the áras is sometimes only delivered in the hours before the game which causes mild panic. There's nothing tokenistic or opportunistic about Michael D Higgins' attitude to the local game; he is a genuine fan.

Tweet of the Year 2

"My housemate just came on against England while I'm sitting on the couch eating a packet of mighty munch" - Sligo Rovers left full Danny Ledwith shares a house with their Estonian international Sander Puri who was part of his country's Euro 2016 campaign

Best Interview

Maxime Blanchard, the French-born Shamrock Rovers defender, gave an interview to a website in his homeland about his Irish experience. His observations cut straight to the point. On Limerick's old Jackman Park abode, he said: "You could look at the buildings behind the pitch with their broken windows and think you were in Kosovo."

He Said What?

With Bray's players somehow keeping the show on the road amid the turmoil that sent managers through a revolving door, they were taken aback when chairman Denis O'Connor appeared on 'Soccer Republic' after the shock departure of Trevor Croly and said: "We're going to have to get some strong players in." He said it was no reflection on the current lot but the timing was awful and the response understandable. "So we are not good enough? Sound" tweeted defender John Sullivan.

Surreal Moment

The LOI can feel removed from the focus on the national team sometimes so the sight of one of our greatest players, Damien Duff, coming off the bench for his Rovers debut in Tallaght and throwing shapes with his distinctive style was a strange moment.

Tweet Of The Year 3

"Explaining the relegation battle to the mother.. She responds with.. 'Would they not let you stay up cause you're doing so well?" - As Limerick went on their incredible run, Paul O'Conor detailed a discussion with home. That said, his poor mother should be made aware that the FAI have launched weaker cases in the international field.

And it's farewell to . . .

The full list is not confirmed just yet but we could be saying goodbye to Bohemians duo Jason Byrne and Dave Mulcahy, two legendary figures that have definitely left their mark. Pat Sullivan, who scored that sensational volley for Shamrock Rovers against Partizan Belgrade in 2011, is hanging up his boots. Keith Fahey retired during the season and Stephen McPhail is considering his options too. It's increasingly becoming a young man's league.

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