Here is our SSE Airtricity Premier Division Team of the Year for the 2019 campaign, featuring star performers from four different clubs.
James Talbot – Bohemians
An extremely tight call between James Talbot and Alan Mannus, but the Bohs man just about sneaks it for me. He had the unenviable task of replacing the excellent Shane Supple, who retired at the end of last season.
Talbot more than proved himself up for the task, however, and was a terrific shot-stopper for a side that had lost three of their first-team defenders before the start of the campaign.
— Soccer Republic (@SoccRepublic) October 18, 2019
Roberto Lopes – Shamrock Rovers
The Rovers defender has been one of the league’s standout centre-backs for a few seasons now and was part of a formidable partnership with Lee Grace. The team only conceded 21 goals in 36 league games, with the Cape Verde international missing just one of those fixtures.
Shamrock Rovers grabbed a deserved draw in Brann after a last gasp header from Roberto Lopes that sent the away end crazy!
— eir Sport (@eirSport) July 11, 2019
Lopes was also a key figure in their impressive Europa League, scoring a vital equaliser in the latter stages of their first leg tie at SK Brann.
Lee Grace – Shamrock Rovers
Somewhat contentiously, I’ve not included either of the Dundalk centre-backs, Sean Hoare or Daniel Cleary, despite the fact that the champions conceded just 18 goals in the league, the lowest of any team. But the Lilywhites’ routine of rotating defenders made it very difficult to leave out Lee Grace when he player over 3000 minutes, contributing massively to his side’s solidity across an entire season, when others featured a fair bit less.
That’s how tight the margins were in this decision however, as I could have easily picked any combination of the four. Grace was rock solid all year though, proving himself to be one of Rovers’ best signings since he arrived from Galway United in 2017. The 26-year-old’s performances have seen him linked with a move to Hull City in the off-season.
Sean Gannon – Dundalk
On the three-man shortlist for the PFAI Player of the Season award, Sean Gannon reasserted his status as the best full-back in the country with another stellar campaign.
The Dubliner was a terror for opposition defences, charging up and down the right-wing with ease. He completed a terrific season by picking up his fifth league winner’s medal with the Louth outfit.
Massive victory for Dundalk over their title challengers!
— SSE Airtricity League (@SSEAirtricityLg) June 28, 2019
Somewhat surprisingly, Gannon only scored one goal and provided just one assist in the league, but both came in separate wins over title rivals Shamrock Rovers. Talk about picking your moments.
Ciaran Coll – Derry City
A veteran of the League of Ireland having spent a decade at Finn Harps before joining their north-west rivals in the off-season, Ciaran Coll just had, by his own admission, “his best season for performances” in his career.
The 28-year-old was voted the club’s Player of the Year and was a big reason why they were able to jump from eighth last year to fourth this year, the biggest improvement of any club, and qualify for next season’s Europa League.
Coll also provided a goal and two assists in the league, although his lowest point was being on the receiving end of this absolutely horrendous tackle from Conor Deasy back in April.
— Soccer Republic (@SoccRepublic) April 5, 2019
I noticed that Sean Kavanagh was a popular choice at left-back for a lot of people in their own personal TOTY, but the fact that he didn’t play up to 2000 minutes ruled him out immediately for me.
Chris Shields – Dundalk
Has there been a more consistent performer in the Premier Division over the past seven years than Chris Shields? While he’s not the most spectacular of players, he has a great work ethic, impeccable timing and is good on the ball.
Shields has been the backbone of this Dundalk team throughout this long run of success, and his influence was most keenly felt when he spent a short spell on the sidelines early on in the year. Once he returned, they never looked back and raced to the top of the table.
— Soccer Republic (@SoccRepublic) November 11, 2019
The Lilywhites didn’t complete the coveted treble, but they did win the inaugural all-island Unite the Union Champions Cup after resoundingly beating Linfield 7-1 on aggregate. Shields, of course, was man of the match in their second leg 6-0 victory at Oriel Park.
Jack Byrne – Shamrock Rovers
Hailed for a long time as the cure to Ireland’s longtime creative malaise at international level, Jack Byrne is finally realising some of the potential that convinced Manchester City to sign him as a teenager.
Now 23-years-old, the Dubliner is playing some of the best football of his life, having played an integral role in Shamrock Rovers’ first FAI Cup triumph in 32 years.
📽️ | That touch and finish 🤩
— Shamrock Rovers FC 🇮🇪 (@ShamrockRovers) July 19, 2019
As well as contributing eight goals and an assist in 33 league appearances this season, he lit it up on the European stage and earned his first international cap for Ireland (something we argued heavily for back in July) after coming on as a substitute against Bulgaria. And there’s surely more to come.
Daniel Mandroiu – Bohemians
One of the most entertaining footballers to watch this season, Daniel Mandroiu deservedly picked up the PFAI Young Player of the Season award and scored one of the all-time great golazos in the league’s history – against their most fierce rivals too.
This is how you put your team ahead in a derby game! 💪
— Goal (@goal) June 14, 2019
After a disappointing spell with Brighton’s academy, the Dubliner was pivotal for Bohs in the number ten role, dictating play and setting the tempo while showing off some fantastic ball skills.
If there’s one thing I had to criticise the 21-year-old for, it would be the fact that he can be a bit of a luxury player at times. When the game’s not going his way he can be anonymous and offer little in the way of workrate. That can also lead to frustration for him, which we have seen with two awful challenges he’s put in this season.
Junior Ogode-Uzokwe – Derry City
One of the most enjoyable players to watch this season, Junior has turned out to be one of the best imports in recent years. The Colchester United loanee ended up being the surprise top goalscorer in the league, finding the net on 14 occasions.
👟 The goal that won Junior the Golden Boot!
— Derry City FC (@derrycityfc) November 6, 2019
The unusual thing about his exploits is the fact that he is a wide player, but his ability to cut in, link-up play, and penetrate the penalty area made him a particularly dangerous weapon in the Derry attack.
David Parkhouse – Derry City
A potentially controversial call, as I have left out arguably the best striker in the league over the past two years, Patrick Hoban. The Dundalk forward’s 13 goal haul was the second-highest in the division and two more than what David Parkhouse scored. On top of that he scored four in the League Cup and one in the Europa League, but seven of his overall tally came from penalties.
— Soccer Republic (@SoccRepublic) July 30, 2019
Conversely, none of Parkhouse’s 11 goals were from the spot, while he also scored seven in four League Cup games at rate of one every 50 minutes. Ironically, Derry City lost the final of that competition to Dundalk on penalties, but that cup run was one of the highlights of a terrific campaign for the Candystripes in which they qualified for Europe.
Their teenage frontman, on loan from Sheffield United, was central to that success this season.
Michael Duffy – Dundalk
Nominated for the Player of the Season award, Michael Duffy was undoubtedly one of the standout performers of the season. In a Dundalk team full of great players, he was arguably head and shoulders above the rest.
Much like Junior, the Derryman had an extremely productive campaign out wide, providing 12 goals and six assists from the left-wing, adding another goal and an assist in the Europa League.
Duffy’s finest moment of the season had to be his 93rd minute equaliser in the FAI Cup final against Rovers. With time running out for Lilywhites, he received the ball in the box and blasted it past Mannus in goals with a terrific strike.
INCREDIBLE! Michael Duffy, with a moment of absolute brilliance, rescues Dundalk with seconds to go. It's extra-time in the FAI Cup final! https://t.co/3OeMqqfxm4 #RTEsoccer pic.twitter.com/xUIo5yws7V
— Soccer Republic (@SoccRepublic) November 3, 2019
Although his side ultimately did not win the trophy, that moment showed just how clinical and important he is to the club.