The good, the bad and the ugly of 2010
Daniel McDonnell examines the heroes, villains, highs and lows of an action-packed Airtricity League season
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Richie Ryan (Sligo Rovers)
The ex-Sunderland midfielder was tipped for big things at the Stadium of Light before persistent injury problems dashed his dreams. It's taken the 25-year-old time to reach concert pitch at the Showgrounds, but he has excelled throughout this campaign and deserves recognition. A crying shame that he misses the FAI Cup final.
WHEN WILL WE SEE YOU AGAIN?
Shaun Williams (Sporting Fingal)
The young midfielder has turned heads with some impressive performances and it's surely only a matter of time before a club from across the water takes a punt.
Still the unfinished article, but the young Dubliner appears UK-bound on the back of a decent run of form mid-season.
James Chambers (Shamrock Rovers)
Perhaps needs another year at home, yet the midfielder possesses the raw materials to play at a higher level.
THREE TO WATCH IN 2011
Daniel Kearns (Dundalk)
Better known for court battle which confirmed that Northern Ireland are powerless to stop players declaring for the south, but showed why Ireland were so keen to get him in his brief stint with Dundalk after being released from West Ham. Belfast lad still has a bright future ahead.
Gary Burke (Bohemians)
With Bohemians set to radically cost-cut, the young players at the club -- largely drawn from Belvedere -- will come to the fore. Burke is a tricky midfielder who Pat Fenlon has compared to Wes Hoolahan. That's high praise.
Sean Stewart (St Patrick's Athletic)
The teenager has broken into Pete Mahon's team in the last months of the campaign and has the attributes to make a bigger impact next term when he matures further.
A remarkable win for Shamrock Rovers away to Israeli side Bnei Yehuda set up a competitive showdown with Juventus in Tallaght. The Serie A side secured a comfortable 2-0 success, but are given a harder time of it in the driving Modena rain before a stunning Alessandro del Piero free-kick denied the Hoops a famous draw. No shame in that.
After a single-goal victory in the home leg which could have been more,Bohemians travelled away to Welsh club TNS looking to finish the job and guarantee four more games in Europe -- and a couple of hundred grand -- in the process. They concede three goals in the opening exchanges and suffer a humiliating 4-0 defeat. Plenty of shame in that.
BANNER OF THE YEAR
Bohs' first game of consequence post-Europe brought St Patrick's Athletic to Dalymount. The Gypsies players ran out of the tunnel and approached the away end, where Saints fans had constructed a sign with the letters 'T', 'N' and 'S' highlighted in the statement, 'The New Shels' -- a cruel reference to the Phisborough club's dire financial plight.
DIDN'T SEE THAT COMING
After being deemed surplus to requirements at Shamrock Rovers, Carlow native Padraig Amond headed for a fresh start and full-time football with Sligo. A prolific period of goalscoring followed and, at the close of the August transfer window, Portugese top flight club Pacos Ferreira emerged with an offer that the 22-year-old couldn't refuse.
SAME OLD STORY
How many times does a player have to unfairly miss an FAI Cup final before the disciplinary system is overhauled? Once again, we have two top players missing out on this year's showpiece, with Richie Ryan and Matthew Blinkhorn unavailable.
It is desperately unfair that Blinkhorn should miss the big Aviva date for picking up just four yellow cards over the course of a long season. If a player goes a period of games without a caution, an earlier aberration should be wiped from the record.
And if a player does reach the limit, he should be punished immediately rather than delayed sanction. This is happening almost every year and serves no positive purpose.
The media guide for the 2010 season placed Cork City FC Foras Co-Op and the new Derry City FC on opposite pages. Other clubs had detailed descriptions of their history, finishing positions in recent years and similar statistics. The blank double-page spread emphasised the chaos of the winter just gone, and the memories wiped away by recklessness.
Sporting Fingal for consistently trying to play entertaining football, even in European competition. UCD, for comfortably adapting to the Premier Division and promoting young talent in the process. And Monaghan United, for putting up a brave fight in the most difficult First Division in some time.
OUT OF AFRICA
If you told a floating punter with no interest in the League of Ireland that three African internationals were plying their trade in these parts, they'd probably be surprised. The exploits of ex-Cameroon World Cup squad member Joseph Ndo are well documented, and Benin's Romauld Boco returned to Sligo midway through this season. And the third? Well, it's none other than Eamon Zayed, who was approached by Libya last month. The Dublin lad qualifies to play for the North African nation and is now in the frame for caps.
"I've seen better fights in a chipper in Finglas" -- Pat Fenlon offers his opinion on scuffles between players following the draw between Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers in May.
"I have been discussing this unbelievable situation with our football managers this afternoon. We are really surprised about everything. We cannot understand that you are not able to reach an agreement together"-- A letter from a Barcelona official to both the FAI and Limerick after the association refuse to sanction a Thomond Park friendly between the Shannonsiders and the Catalan giants, while trying to convince Barca to play a match at the Aviva Stadium.
"We keep getting told about UEFA coefficients and you see these FAI blazers travelling with us and getting on the bandwagon, but you don't see them helping us" -- Dundalk boss Ian Foster slams the FAI as he takes issue with his club's crowded fixture schedule and registration difficulties during their brief Europa League run.
"I am furious with Ian and the comments he has made. The club are facing a hefty fine because of it and it brings Dundalk Football Club into disrepute. This is the second time he has made comments this season regarding the FAI. Steps were taken the last time to ensure he wouldn't come out with anything like this again so the club board is very disappointed with what he has said." -- The Louth club's owner, Gerry Matthews, opts against backing Foster and instead embarks upon a damage-limitation exercise -- undermining his manager along the way.
"All this money that's coming from the FAI, I think it's €5m a year. A lot of it's going to MNS I think. I think they should forget about that because I don't think it's actually brought one extra person to the games" -- Pete Mahon takes aim at Con Murphy and the lads on the RTE couches in a wide-ranging discussion of the league's future.
"At the moment, I don't feel as if I'm going to miss the game. But obviously in a month's time I think I'll say I really miss it and I'll be itching to get back in" -- Neale Fenn (below) perhaps drops a subtle hint when he announces his retirement from football and parts company with Dundalk in July. A few weeks later, he joins Shamrock Rovers.
"Any conspiracy that I spoke to Neale Fenn and tried to dream up, 'How about retiring, Neale?' That's a way of getting out of it.' I'm not clever enough to do that. I wish I had thought of it, to be honest" -- Michael O'Neill responds after Dundalk sceptically respond to the surprising developments.
THE YEAR IN NUMBERS
172 Total goals conceded by Galway clubs Mervue United and Salthill Devon in the First Division over the course of the league campaign.
1 The number of Bohemians players voted into the PFAI team of the season by top-flight participants. Brian Shelley made the cut.
4 Ex-League of Ireland men in Giovanni Trapattoni's squad for Euro 2012 clashes with Russia and Slovakia. Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Keith Fahey and Seamus Coleman.
5 Drogheda United managers during 2010. Alan Mathews, Darius Kierans, Paul Lumsden, Brian Donnelly and Bobby Browne all manned the dugout. They finished bottom.
10 The price in Euro of an adult ticket for FAI Cup final between Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers; the best decision made by Abbotstown in recent times.