BOHEMIANS' players were provided with further motivation to retain the league title yesterday after they were given a thumbs down by their peers.
Pat Fenlon's Gypsies could claim the title this evening if they take full points from their trip to Galway, and Shamrock Rovers lose to Drogheda in Tallaght, although it would be a surprise if the Louth side were capable of such a performance.
However, only one Bohs' star -- defender Brian Shelley -- has made the cut in the PFAI Premier Division Team of the Year, which was voted for by all the players in the top flight. Second and third-placed sides Shamrock Rovers and Sligo have four players each, while Sporting Fingal and St Patrick's Athletic each have a solitary representative.
Final votes were sent in at the beginning of this month, just as the pendulum in the championship race was swinging towards the holders.
Stung by criticism in the wake of their humbling Champions League loss to TNS, the Bohs dressing-room are determined to silence those around the league who wrote their obituary following that reverse. The awards snub will merely add to the siege mentality.
"I'm a little bit surprised," admitted Shelley, who is also shortlisted for the Ford Player of the Year. "Maybe that's just being biased. It's definitely an incentive, although I don't think we need much more.
"There's been a lot thrown at the team this year. We've had one really bad night in two years, and that was TNS.
"We took an awful lot of stick for it, some of it from within our own football club, which was hard to take.
"But we've showed character in the dressing-room and have put some great results together. That's why we deserve to be back where we are. A lot of people around the league joined the bandwagon and said that's the end of Bohs, but that drove us on."
Still, Shelley doesn't quite know what the future holds for Bohemians, even if they do lift the crown. Nobody is entirely sure. He's got the option to stay for another year and gives the impression he would like to stay if the club remained full-time, but that eventuality doesn't seem likely.
"There's been plenty of rumours going around, but we've been paid on time," he said.
The only option is to concentrate on the short-term and tonight's testing encounter in Galway, their bogey team this year. Sean Connor's side may be bound for a relegation play-off, yet they've taken seven points from their three meetings with the league leaders.
Shelley acknowledges that the absence of Karl Sheppard and possibly Stephen O'Donnell robs the hosts of their two star performers, but is anticipating a difficult task nonetheless.
"There's bad blood there with Sean and Bohs and he won't want us to be winning the league down there," he said. "Maybe it's a good thing they've beaten us this year, because the lads know what's at stake and how hard it's going to be."
Last Friday's cup loss to Sligo exposed vulnerability in the Bohs ranks that wasn't apparent in their charge back to the summit. Shamrock Rovers, on the other hand, hope to use their cup replay success over St Patrick's Athletic on Tuesday evening to get their show back on the road.
Hoops' striker Gary Twigg, another Player of the Year nominee, admits that it delivered a badly needed boost to morale.
"It's given a massive lift to everybody at the club," said the Scotsman. "Hopefully, it can kick-start us into the final two league games.
"Obviously, the confidence took a wee dent because of what happened in the league, but we had to be big enough and strong enough to come back from that and I think, on Tuesday, we showed we can."
The reality for Twigg and his team-mates, however, is that the destiny of the title is out of their hands.
Premier Division Team of the Year -- Mannus (Shamrock Rovers), Shelley (Bohemians), Peers (Sligo), Kenna (St Pat's), Stevens (Shamrock Rovers); Chambers (Shamrock Rovers), Ryan (Sligo), Williams (Sporting Fingal), Ndo (Sligo); Amond (Sligo), Twigg (Shamrock Rovers).
Player of Year nominees -- Amond (Sligo -- now Pacos de Ferreira) Mannus (Shamrock Rovers), Ryan (Sligo), Shelley (Bohemians), Twigg (Shamrock Rovers), Williams (Sporting Fingal).