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That's a wrap: A look back at Ireland's stand-out XI of 2018

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Patrick Hoban was one of the stand-out Irish players of the last 12 months.
Patrick Hoban was one of the stand-out Irish players of the last 12 months.

IRISH FOOTBALL IN 2018 wasn’t exactly fertile ground for growing the game in this country.

Fans and players alike watched on as Martin O’Neill’s side failed to win a competitive game this calendar year and scored just one goal in a match of any importance.

In the League of Ireland Premier Division, Dundalk reasserted their domestic dominance over rivals Cork City with a league and cup double to cement themselves as one of the best groups of players to grace the league since its inception.

A fitting way to bid goodbye to Stephen Kenny who now takes on the role of Ireland U21 manager with the Dubliner replacing Mick McCarthy in the top job in 2020.

Here are some of the best of best performers this year on the pitch.

Manager:  Stephen Kenny

Stephen Kenny celebrates at the final whistle Ireland U21 manager, Stephen Kenny. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Undoubtedly the biggest winner from 2018 was Stephen Kenny. Having won nearly all before him domestically, he reasserted Dundalk as the League of Ireland’s dominant team and saw off the challenge of rivals, Cork City.

A league and cup double put him in the frame to replace an under-fire Martin O’Neill as Ireland manager something which he has been promised once Mick McCarthy’s reign in 2020.

For now, he’s tasked with helping reshape Irish football and has been given the role of Ireland U21 manager for the next two years.

Goalkeeper 

Darren Randolph

Darren Randolph saves a shot from Gavin Whyte Darren Randolph saves a shot from Northern Ireland's Gavin Whyte. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Nominated as Ireland International Player of the Year, Darren Randolph proved his worth between the sticks during a fallow year for Ireland up front.

With a lack of goals being scored by Martin O’Neill’s side, Randolph made numerous excellent appearances for his club and country this year – three clean sheets from his six games for Ireland in 2018.

He helped Middlesbrough to the play-offs last season but missed out in the semi-final with a 1-0 second-leg defeat to Aston Villa. An integral part of Tony Pulis’ side pushing for promotion once again.

Defenders:

Matt Doherty

Britain Soccer Premier League Wolves defender, Matt Doherty. Source: Rui Vieira

Ireland’s stand-out defender of 2018. Has been part of a high-flying Wolves team this year and is Ireland’s leading scorer in the English top flight – a wonderful feat for a defender.

Didn’t feature as regularly for Ireland but is likely to be a big part of Mick McCarthy’s plans ahead of the European Championships qualification starting in March.

An all-round positive player, willing to get forward and may well be utilised in Ireland’s midfield.

Shane Duffy

Huddersfield Town v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League - John Smith's Stadium Free-scoring Shane Duffy. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Helped secure Brighton’s promotion to the Premier League in 2017 and has been an ever present for Chris Houghton’s side since.

Joins Doherty as Ireland’s top scorer in the Premier League and has been a leading figure at the heart of the Irish defence over the last number of years.

Not the most satisfying year for him in a green shirt, but has shown what he is capable of within the right system under the Seagulls boss.

Sean Hoare 

Sean Hoare celebrates scoring Sean Hoare celebrates scoring the opening goal at the Aviva Stadium during the FAI Cup final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The first of a number of League of Ireland inclusions in this year’s team. At the heart of the Dundalk defence, Sean Hoare played a pivotal role in Dundalk’s double success.

Scored the opening goal during the FAI Cup final and has overcome injuries to cement himself in the Dundalk back line since arriving from St Pats.

Darragh Leahy

Darragh Leahy celebrates assisting Kevin Devaney's goal Darragh Leahy celebrates a goal against Limerick at Dalymount Park. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The only Bohs man to make the starting XI. Endeared himself to the Bohs faithful after scoring the winner against Shamrock Rovers this season. Returned from his stint with Coventry City and has excelled in the League of Ireland.

Midfielders

Alan Browne

Hull City v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship - KCOM Stadium Preston midfielder Alan Browne has featured prominently in the Championship side's revival this year. Source: EMPICS Sport

The midfielder has been an almost ever-present in the Preston North End side this season and has helped the club reverse their fortunes after a rocky start to the season.

In a team already brimming with Ireland internationals, the 23-year-old’s performances have stood out due to his ability to score from midfield – seven goals in all competitions helped lift the Championship side from the foot of the table come the end of September and places him second in the club’s scoring charts behind Callum Robinson.

On the international front, Browne only featured in one of Ireland’s Nations League games – the 1-0 home defeat to Wales – and missed out on O’Neill’s last game in charge against Denmark with a shoulder injury.

Dynamic, hard-working midfielder set for an exciting 2019.

Chris Shields

Chris Shiels celebrates after the game The Dundalk midfielder has been in peerless form this season. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Missed out on PFAI Player of the Year to team-mate Michael Duffy (see below) but was an integral part to Dundalk’s terrific season.

A winner against Cork City may have been the apex in a season full of highs for Chris Shiels who has been proving for years he is one of the best midfielders in the league.

Michael Duffy

Michael Duffy with the Player's Player of the Year Award Player of the Year, Michael Duffy. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The PFAI Player of the Year, Michael Duffy, shone brightest out of a rake of talent in the Lilywhites ranks.

A central figure to Dundalk’s season, the 24-year-old acted as one of the chief suppliers for Patrick Hoban to help fire Dundalk to victory in the league.

With 13 goals to his name this season and a handful of good performances in the Europa League Duffy appears to be on the cusp of an international call-up in the new year.

Forwards

Ronan Curtis

Stuart Dallas and Ronan Curtis Ronan Curtis made his senior Ireland debut in November against Northern Ireland. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“All I wanted to do was become an international footballer,” Curtis said after making his senior international debut against Northern Ireland in November. “My heart was beating so fast. It was just an amazing feeling.”

A well-deserved call-up for Curtis who has impressed this season for Portsmouth in League One. Having taken the chance to move from Derry City to join Kenny Jackett’s side, the 22-year-old has made a big impact in England.

An assist for the winning goal on his debut for the club was followed by two goals away to Blackpool the following week. It’s little wonder the versatile forward has caught the eye.

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban celebrates with the FAI Cup after the game Patrick Hoban's goals were crucial to Dundalk's successes this season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

2018 wasn’t a vintage year for Irish forwards. A dearth of quality on the international scene meant Irish fans had to go elsewhere to seek out players capable of scoring on regular occasions.

The Galwegian broke the all-time Premier Division goalscoring record when he netted the equaliser against St Pat’s to help clinch the Premier Division title.

He finished the season with 29 goals to his name and goes down as one of the most prolific strikers in the history of the league.

Paddy Madden

Paddy Madden Ireland's Paddy Madden Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The Irish forward has made a terrific impact since securing a move from Scunthorpe United to Fleetwood Town in January.

This month, Madden celebrated his 100th goal in English football and has scored 10 times in 25 games in all competitions this term.

“My aim for the season is 20 goals. I’m a 20-goal striker and I’m used to getting 20 goals,” he told the Blackpool Gazette, a feat which was last achieved for the club by Jamie Vardy.

The 28-year-old has settled in well at the club in 2018 and his goalscoring record this year – 16 in the calendar year – suggests there are still big things to come from the forward.

Notable mentions

Caoimhin Kelleher

Liverpool v Napoli - Pre-Season Friendly - Aviva Stadium Caoimhin Kelleher warms up during Liverpool's preseason friendly against Napoli in Dublin. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

The Liverpool goalkeeper may struggle to make it in ahead of Alisson Becker, but signing a new contract for the Premier League side shows just how much they rate the Irish teenager.

He is likely to be a key part of Stephen Kenny’s Ireland U21 plans.

Alan Judge

Alan Judge celebrates after scoring a goal Alan Judge scored his first international goal against the USA this summer. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

It’s been a hard road back for Alan Judge after suffering a double compound fracture in his leg during the Championship clash against Ipswich in April 2016 and the Brentford midfielder has been in fine form this year.

Scored a cracking freekick against Arsenal in the FA Cup this season, but undoubtedly one of the highlights was scoring the winner and his first international goal against the USA in June.

Michael Obafemi

Michael Obafemi makes his debut Michael Obafemi makes his competitive debut for Ireland against Denmark. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

After confirming he was ‘all in’ ahead of the friendly against Northern Ireland, the Southampton striker was handed his first competitive cap against Denmark in Aarhus.

Grabbed an assist against Manchester United at St Mary’s and is still only 18 years old. 

A bright future for the striker.

Andy Lyons

Andy Lyons Andy Lyons is one of the brightest prospects to come out of Bohemian FC this year. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The Bohs defender has made appearances at U21 level and was this year elevated to the senior squad to gain some invaluable Premier Division experience.

Part of Tom Mohan’s Ireland squad who recorded a remarkable victory over the Netherlands during the European Championships qualification to see Ireland progress to the Elite Phase next year.

Graham Burke

Graham Burke Ireland forward, Graham Burke. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Also grabbed his first international goal this year when he netted at the Aviva Stadium against USA. Scored 13 times in 22 Premier Division games before his move to Preston North End.

Troy Parrott

United Kingdom: Tottenham Hotspur v FC Internazionale - UEFA Youth League Troy Parrott has produced some eye-catching performances for Tottenham in Europe this season. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

The Irish Wunderkid. Having completed a move to Tottenham this year to see him play full-time, the teenager has been making waves across the water.

Parrott has scored some cracking goals in the UEFA Youth League and has already caught the eye of first-team manager, Mauricio Pochettino. Call ups to the Tottenham senior team send signals out that Parrott is meant for big things.

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