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12 standout players for the 12 Premier Division clubs in 2017

We recognise the individuals who have stood out for all the top-tier sides.

Updated at 16.34

Sean Maguire — Cork City

Sean Maguire says goodbye to fans after the game Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Even though he left the club when they still had 12 games to play, few would argue with the assertion that Cork City would not have been crowned Premier Division champions without Maguire’s phenomenal contribution during their first 21 games.

Before he became a senior Ireland international and a key player for Preston North End in their push for promotion to the Premier League, the Kilkenny native scored 20 league goals for the Leesiders, which sees him finish as the SSE Airtricity League’s leading goalscorer for the second season in a row.

His importance to John Caulfield’s team has been illustrated by the fact that City have found goals and victories so difficult to come by in the post-Maguire era. Midfielders Conor McCormack and Gearoid Morrissey have both stood out for the newly crowned champions throughout this season, but Maguire’s input ultimately made the difference after three years of runners-up finishes.

– Paul Dollery

David McMillan – Dundalk FC

David McMillan celebrates scoring a goal Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

In a season where Dundalk have witnessed whirlwind glimpses of Michael Duffy, Patrick McEleney and Robbie Benson, McMillan is the one who has consistently performed. Having missed the opening weeks of the season through injury, he began on the goalscoring trail in his first appearance, converting Dundalk’s goal in the 2-1 defeat to Cork City in March.

Prolific throughout the summer and beyond, included in his 23 goals are strikes against Rosenborg in Europe and Shamrock Rovers in both the FAI Cup semi-final replay and EA Sports Cup final.

A selfless runner who both links and holds up the play, only Sean Maguire could have been placed ahead of him in terms of a standout League of Ireland striker this season.
The Lilywhites have lost many prized assets in recent years, however, McMillan is perhaps the most indispensible. It’s vital Dundalk hold onto him.

– Caoimhin Reilly

Trevor Clarke – Shamrock Rovers

Trevor Clarke 16/9/2017 Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

It shows just how much progress Trevor Clarke has made in the past 12 months that he is being mentioned in the same sentences as Sean Maguire and Patrick McEleney for the 2017 Player of the Year award and not just the Young Player of the Year award, which he should surely claim as his own.

Although registering just three goals this season, the 19-year-old has been the standout performer of Stephen Bradley’s up-and-coming Shamrock Rovers side, which boasts an array of talent both in the starting XI and off the bench.

Rovers, having guaranteed European football weeks ago, made it to the EA Sports Cup final and also came within extra-time of a first FAI Cup final since 2010.

Clarke was often deployed on either wing in midfield or as a wing-back in a 3-5-2 formation, while his performances were full of attacking confidence, refined technical ability, speed, dribbling and close control.

Midway through the season, the player was linked with a move to England, with Southampton a recurring name across the gossip columns. It seems probable that his youth and extraordinary talent mean a move abroad during the off-season is more likely than for the player to remain in Tallaght for 2018.

Nailing down Clarke’s key attribute is a difficult task due to the fact that there are so many of them. However, unlike the common cliché ‘a jack of all trades is the master of none,’ the Ireland U21 international combines all of his abilities into blistering performances, the best of which we are yet to see.

– Aaron Gallagher

Aaron McEneff — Derry City

Aaron McEneff celebrates scoring a goal Source: Presseye/Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

A tough call, with other talented young Derry stars, including Barry McNamee and Ronan Curtis, also impressing over the course of the season.

McEneff ultimately pips his team-mates for the spot. The youngster’s nine goals have been integral to the Candystripes claiming fourth spot and a place in the Europa League qualifiers, after a traumatic beginning to the season whereby inspirational team captain Ryan McBride died suddenly at the age of 27, having featured in their first four matches of the campaign.

The 22-year-old midfielder in particular has thrived over the course of 2017, showing plenty of resilience to establish himself as one of Derry’s best players after suffering his own personal setback.

During a previous stint at Tottenham, Tim Sherwood compared McEneff to “a young Roy Keane” and since returning from an injury-troubled stint in England following his release by Spurs, the young midfielder has done enough to suggest he could well make another switch across the water in future.

Moreover, there has even been some debate about McEneff’s international future amid talk of switching allegiance from the North to the Republic, and on the evidence of this season, he certainly has the potential to play at that level.

– Paul Fennessy

Ryan Brennan — Bray Wanderers

Ryan Brennan Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

He may not grab the headlines every week but Brennan is consistently so impressive and a joy to watch.

In possession, he is as silky and smooth as they come. He never shies away, he is always hunting for the ball and he knows what to do with it too.

The Drogheda native managed seven goals from the right flank, but would have had more had it not been for the occasional spurning of gilt-edged opportunities. He was routinely the vital cog when the Seagulls breached the opposition defence, as his exquisite touches and flicks unlocked many a rearguard.

Brennan, who turns 26 in November, should be highly courted with his contract due to expire at the Carlisle Grounds imminently.

A red card marred the climax of his season as some petulance saw him dismissed against Dundalk, but it is a mere blotch on his fine notebook.

Aaron Greene was a very, very close second.

– Dan Gorman

Dinny Corcoran – Bohemians

Dinny Corcoran Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

When it was announced that three clubs would be relegated from the Premier Division this season, many punters were expecting Bohemians to be heavily involved in the scrap for survival.

However, Keith Long’s men have enjoyed a remarkable 2017, ultimately securing a fifth-place finish on the final day of the season.

Much of this success is thanks to Dinny Corcoran’s superb 15 league goals, confirming himself as one of the League of Ireland’s deadliest finishers.

Beginning his third stint at the club, the 28-year-old hit the ground running straight away, hitting five goals in his first five games.

An unfortunate knee injury forced the Donabate man to sit out the next seven games, but after returning to the fold, he proved he hadn’t lost a step, adding 10 more to secure his best-ever league tally and ensure The Gypsies enjoyed a satisfactory second half to the season.

Bohs have already re-signed a bulk of their squad for next year, but fans will be praying that Dinny will soon follow suit, as his keen eye for goal and lethal finishing ability has proven indispensable for the Dalymount Park faithful.

– Harry Manning

Rodrigo Tosi — Limerick

Rodrigo Tosi celebrates Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Brazilian began his League of Ireland season in bizarre fashion; almost missing his debut due to registration problems. However, he hit a hat-trick against Sligo Rovers and immediately endeared himself to the Limerick faithful. Tosi rarely won a header outside the box, but more significantly, was deadly inside the penalty area.

Finishing with 15 goals in all competitions, his year was more fragmented than many Blues fans would have liked. Martin Russell departed early on, before Willie Boland had an extended spell as interim manager, prior to the arrival of Neil McDonald. Thankfully for the Shannonsiders, all this turbulent period did was show his adaptability. Three different footballing approaches took its toll on the squad, but the 34-year-old’s goals were one of very few consistencies.

Tosi’s audacious lob over Mark McNulty in front of the RTÉ cameras is probably the best goal the Markets Field has seen since its re-opening in June 2015. His journeyman history suggests he won’t be at the club next year, but he’ll be atop most re-signing wishlists in Limerick as LOI silly season begins.

– Andrew Cunneen

Conan Byrne — St Patrick’s Athletic

Conan Byrne Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

In a season where St Pats’ safety in the Premier Division against a first-ever relegation went right down to the wire, Conan Byrne was once again a constant source of determination, inspiration and goals, playing on the right-wing.

Liam Buckley’s league and cup-winning sides, which lit up Inchicore in years gone by, have slowly been stripped apart, but Byrne’s loyalty, passion and high performance levels never waned in his fifth season at the club.

Where Christy Fagan has found goals hard to come by, Conan and Kurtis Byrne have had to fill in. The former managed nine in the Premier Division this season, none more memorable than his effort against Bohemians at the end of March. Byrne had never scored in Dalymount Park before and the strike from inside the visitors’ own half was a seismic one to mark his 100th goal in League of Ireland football amid an unforgettable 4-0 win.

At times, it seemed like Byrne, alongside captain and fellow mainstay Ian Bermingham, were fighting a solo battle to keep the Saints in the Premier Division this season, raising them up when they were at their lowest and standing up when the chips were down home and away as devoted footballers who knew how much the badge meant to St Pats’ supporters. Byrne always fought the good fight and, following last night’s result in Derry, eventually won.

Mere safety in the division is not the usual reward he is accustomed to at Richmond Park, but given how much grit and determination went into securing their top-flight status in a season of lows and persistent worry, the outcome will feel just as satisfactory as any other triumphs this morning.

As a player who will likely be remembered fondly as one of greatest ever to pull on the red and white shirt, it is no surprise whatsoever that he was given the St Pat’s Supporters Player of the Year award for 2017 last week.

– Aaron Gallagher

Kyle Callan-McFadden — Sligo Rovers

Kyle Callan-McFadden celebrates after the game Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

It’s undoubtedly been a difficult season for Sligo Rovers, but one of their shining lights all year has been Donegal-born defender Kyle Callan-McFadden.

Following a difficult start to life with the Bit O’Red, the former Norwich City man settled in well and cemented his place in the starting 11.

His improvement throughout the season has been remarkable and his partnership with Seamus Sharkey at the rock of Sligo’s defence has been crucial to their second half of the season, and particularly the final third of the campaign during which Ger Lyttle’s side lost only one game.

The Rovers rearguard conceded 29 goals in the opening round of fixtures, while in the second third of fixtures conceded 18.

The 22-year-old has been a real leader for the Bit O’Red all season, and plays as though well beyond his years. He has also contributed two goals to Sligo’s campaign this year — one of which came in the vital 1-1 draw with St Patrick’s Athletic.

– Jessica Farry

Ronan Murray – Galway United

Ronan Murray misses a penalty Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

It’s a shame that two missed penalties in recent weeks could blight Ronan Murray’s superb maiden season with Galway United.

The 26-year old from Belmullet, Co Mayo, has had an outstanding campaign at Eamonn Deacy Park, having joined from Notts County last December.

Murray, who can play up front or in midfield, had spent nine years in England, having moved to Ipswich Town when he was 15 and then had spells at Torquay United, Plymouth Argyle and Swindon Town.

The former Republic of Ireland underage star has played 38 games for Galway United this season, scoring 17 goals along the way.

Murray’s eye for goal was a key factor in United recovering from a poor start to the season, with his superb first touch a key factor in him being the best player for Shane Keegan’s side during a difficult campaign.

Murray, who was once sent home at Ipswich Town by Roy Keane after missing a penalty in a reserve match, missed an injury-time spot kick in the recent 3-3 draw away to Bray Wanderers and again two weeks later in the 2-2 draw at Limerick. But these were the only blips in an otherwise excellent first season in the Airtricity League for Murray.

– John Fallon

Paddy McCourt — Finn Harps

Paddy McCourt Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

At 33, Paddy McCourt was still a marquee signing for Finn Harps as they aimed to build up last season’s survival in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division following their dramatic promotion via the play-offs in 2015.

McCourt, particularly in his time with his native Derry City and in turn Celtic, was known as a mazy winger with immense levels of skill. This season, Ollie Horgan primarily used McCourt in a central midfield role.

The experienced star’s pace isn’t what it was but that old cliché resonates — he still always looks to have time on the ball. That’s a consequence of his football brain, his ability to pick a pass and even put in a tackle when the need arose this season in the engine-room. And that showed his evolution.

He scored two goals this season – a free-kick against Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium and what’s surely in the running for goal of the season, the incredible dribbling run that led to a delicate finish against Sligo Rovers last month.

McCourt played a leading role in the creation of chances for the Donegal side, who ultimately fell through the trapdoor of relegation. What happens with McCourt will be just one of the issues they face in Ballybofey, but if the Derryman’s career continues to follow the path it’s been on to date, then it will surely be colourful.

– Alan Foley

Stephen McGuinness — Drogheda United

Stephen McGuinness Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

In a season where relegated-Drogheda have conceded 65 goals in 33 games, it would seem strange to pick an individual from their back five as player of the season.

However, with their attacking players failing to deliver, Drogheda’s results would have been a lot worse on many an occasion had it not been for the performances of the likes of goalkeeper Stephen McGuinness.

McGuinness is the only Drogheda player to start every league game this season and while he has conceded a considerable amount of goals, had it not been for his heroics in games — including victories over Galway and Shamrock Rovers — Drogheda may well have been relegated far earlier than the end of September.

Stephen Dunne is another who deserves a mention, playing at left-back for a large period of the season before switching to centre-half in recent weeks, which has in turn led to improved defensive performances from the Drogs.

– Gerard Grimes

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