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The Premier Division's winners, losers and Goal of the Season contenders

It’s time to run the rule over another year in the LOI’s top flight.

Dundalk players celebrate with The SSE Airtricity league trophy The Lilywhites players after last night's win over Galway United. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THE SSE AIRTRICITY League Premier Division season drew to a close last night so we’re taking a look back at the highs and lows of the 2016 campaign. 

Winners

1) Dundalk: Surprise, surprise. Three-in-a-row was the target at the beginning of the year and the Lilywhites delivered — securing their place in the history books alongside Cork United, Waterford and Shamrock Rovers.

The depth of Stephen Kenny’s squad was seriously tested as they balanced the title race with their bid to retain the FAI Cup and a maiden voyage  in the Europa League group stages.

Having to play three games-a-week for the latter stages of the season, Dundalk appeared to open the door to the chasing Cork City with an uncharacteristic 3-0 defeat to Sligo Rovers in early October.

However, they bounced back days in a top-of-the-table clash at Oriel Park days later before wrapping up the league at home to Bohemians.

Dundalk celebrate winning the league in the dressing rooms after the game Celebrating winning the title. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

This group of players has been hailed as one of the greatest-ever teams to grace the League of Ireland and it’s hard to argue with such praise. On the brink of relegation just four years ago, the club’s fortunes have been completely transformed due to the hard work of Stephen Kenny, the playing staff, management team and everyone involved behind the scenes.

They’ve been the good news story of Irish football this year and, with the financial power gained by the success on the European stage, you woudn’t bet against their dominance continuing.

2) Sean Maguire: It’s hard not to feel for Cork City, who have had to play second fiddle for the past three years.  Leading the Leesiders’ title challenge in prolific fashion has been 22-year-old striker Sean Maguire.

Since joining at the start of the season after a disappointing spell with Dundalk, the Ireland U21 international has been banging them under John Caulfield.

Sean Maguire celebrates scoring a goal early in the game Cork striker Maguire. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

He’s topped the Premier Division goalscoring charts with 18 — two ahead of David McMillan — and has 28 in all competitions after a superb debut year at Cork.

And there’s still one more chance to add to that tally in next Sunday’s FAI Cup final at the Aviva Stadium.

3) Harry Kenny: Despite spending big in pre-season, Bray Wanderers got off to a terrible start under Mick Cooke and had just one win from their first eight league games when he departed in April.

Sitting joint-bottom of the table at the time, assistant boss Harry Kenny took the reins to join Cooke, Alan Mathews, Maciej Tarnogrodski, David Cassidy and Trevor Croly on the list of managers who have been in charge of the Wicklow club over the past two years.

Harry Kenny celebrates his sides second goal Harry Kenny. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

However, Kenny has worked wonders with the Seagulls and they climbed to sixth in the table — picking up 42 points from the following 25 matches including memorable wins wins over Dundalk, St Patrick’s Athletic and Sligo Rovers.

Losers

1) Longford Town: It’s been a miserable year for the midlanders, who finished rock bottom of the Premier Division.

Noel Haverty dejected after conceding a goal Longford's Noel Haverty. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

After nearly seven years in charge, the SSE Airtricity League’s longest-serving manager Tony Cousins stepped away from the job after a poor run in August, with Gary Cronin taking charge.

However, results didn’t pick up and their relegation to the First Division was confirmed with a 3-0 loss at home to Dundalk.

2) Pat Fenlon: A former league winning-manager with Shelbourne and Bohemians, Pat Fenlon looked an excellent appointment when he was given the Shamrock Rovers job in August 2014.

Pat Fenlon Fenlon. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

His spell was to last less than two years, however. The Hoops overhauled their underage set-up and unveiled plans to develop a new training facility at the Roadstone complex in Tallaght amd part of Fenlon’s remit was to help develop young players and bring them through to the first team, which he did.

However, they endured a difficult first half to 2016, and after a Europa League first leg defeat to Finnish side RoPS Rovaniemi was the final straw.

3) Tommy Dunne: A three-year spell at Galway United came to an end in September when Dunne parted company with the Tribesmen.

The Dubliner did a fine job since taking over after the club re-entered the league in 2014 and took them to promotion from the First Division in his first season before a tenth-place finish and an appearance in the EA Sports Cup final last year.

Tommy Dunne Tommy Dunne. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

But, after a fine start to the 2016 campaign, Galway decided they weren’t making the “required progress” and severed ties after a 5-3 defeat at Cork City, which left them ninth in the table.

Goal of the Season contenders

Kurtis Byrne – Bohemians v Dundalk (3 September) 

Source: killianM2/YouTube

Daryl Horgan – Dundalk v Cork (11 October) 

Source: FootballHighlights/YouTube

Gavin Brennan – Bohemians v Shamrock  Rovers (15 April) 

Source: Shamrock Rovers TV/YouTube

Player of the Year: Daryl Horgan 

The Galway winger stepped up to replace Richie Towell as Dundalk’s talisman and has unsurprisingly been linked with a move to England and possible international call-up to the Ireland squad. Dundalk will be extremely well to hold onto the 24-year-old.

Daryl Horgan Horgan is surely destined to win PFAI Player of the Year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Manager of the Year: Stephen Kenny

Kenny had already achieved significant success with Longford Town, Bohemians and Derry City before arriving at Oriel Park, but he will arguably go down as the league’s finest manager after his exploits at Dundalk.

Hard to believe he’s still only 44.

Stephen Kenny celebrates Stpehen Kenny. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

We’re sad to see them go…

Kevin McHugh: A legend at Finn Harps, Letterkenny man McHugh had planned to call time on his career at the end of the season but sadly had to do it a couple of weeks early after a freak accident which saw him lose a finger.

McHugh, who spent the majority of his career with Harps but had spells at Derry City and Linfield in between, received a final round of applause during last night’s meeting with Bohemians.

Kevin McHugh 31/8/1999. McHugh during his first spell with Finn Harps back in 1999. Source: ©INPHO

Stephen McPhail: Lauded as one of Ireland’s most technically-gifted footballers after breaking into the famous Leeds United team of the late 99s/early 00s, Stephen McPhail went on to carve out a 17-year in English football.

In 2014, the Dubliner returned home and signed for Shamrock Rovers, where he played for two seasons before hanging up his boots.

Stephen McPhail 30/5/2000 McPhail made ten senior appearances for Ireland. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Barry Molloy: Former Derry City captain Barry Molloy announced back in January that this season would be his last and made his final League of Ireland appearance for Finn Harps in last night’s 1-0 win over Bohemians.

Barry Molloy Molloy won the FAI Cup with Derry City. Source: Presseye/Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

He spent ten years at the Candystripes and won the 2012 FAI Cup with his hometown club before joining Harps at the start of the season.

Ayman Ben Mohamed: Unlike the other three, this young man isn’t coming to the end of his career. The talented 21-year-old winger, who was given his chance in first team football by UCD before going on to play for Longford Town, began the season at Bohemians, but signed for Tunisian L’Espérance Sportive de Tunis in August.

Simon Madden and Ayman Ben Mohamed Ben Mohamed. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ben Mohamed was born in London but moved to Ireland as a child. He’s eligible to play for Tunisia through his father and received a first international call-up earlier this year.

Reasons why it’s still the #GreatestLeagueInTheWorld

Bohemians put out a missing bird advertisement for a parrot found at Dalymount:

EirSport answer Galway United fan’s call to spot him on the telly:

After scoring the winner in Dundalk’s Europa League win over Maccabi Tel Aviv, Dundalk striker Ciaran Kilduff offers to drop Today FM reporter Philip Egan home:

And the Lilywhites fans’ Oasis-inspired banner:

 

What did you make of this season’s Premier Division? Give us your thoughts in the comments section

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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