high flyers

Talbot, Elbouzedi, Byrne and Harkin: Our League of Ireland Team of Season (so far)

Feel free to tell us why the exclusion of (insert your favourite player here) is an absolute disgrace.

James Talbot (Bohemians)

James Talbot Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

THE FINGLAS NATIVE was lining out for Ballymun Kickhams just a few months ago, but has now established himself as the most in-form and highly-rated goalkeeper in the SSE Airtricity League.

Still just 22-years-old, Talbot succeeded in keeping nine clean sheets in his first 14 Premier Division games, showing no lack of confidence or ability after being tasked with filling the gloves of Shane Supple.

The former Sunderland shot-stopper received his first senior Ireland call-up for the recent Euro 2020 qualifiers against Denmark and Gibraltar after being singled out for praise by Mick McCarthy for his impressive displays in goals for Bohs.

Sean Gannon (Dundalk)

Sean Gannon Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Gannon has six Premier Division titles with three different clubs under his belt, on top of two FAI Cups, two EA Sports Cups, two President’s Cups, a Leinster Senior Cup and a Europa League campaign.

Despite this litany of season-on-season success year after year, the 27-year-old never allows his hunger to achieve or his performance level to waver at the heart of Dundalk’s defence.

The Dubliner has been the best right back on this island for the guts of four years and this season has been no different, being named SSE Airtricity/SWAI Player of the Month for May as he helped the Lilywhites to top spot at the mid-season break.

Lee Grace (Shamrock Rovers)

Lee Grace 12/10/2018 Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Undoubtedly the signing of 2017, Grace has had a transformative effect on Shamrock Rovers since arriving two years ago.

Standing over 6′1″ tall, Grace is a commanding presence in the centre of defence and has brought out the very best in Roberto Lopes alongside him — the Hoops have kept 11 clean sheets in 21 games so far this year.

The pair, but Grace in particular, have been a rock for Stephen Bradley, building the foundation for a title challenge at Tallaght Stadium with Rovers yearning for a first Premier Division crown since 2011.

Sean Hoare (Dundalk)

Sean Hoare celebrates scoring a goal with Daniel Kelly Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Like his defensive partner Gannon, Hoare has now won everything there is to win in domestic Irish football: league titles, FAI Cups, League Cups, the whole entire lot.

The centre back was always touted as a talent to keep your eye on during his days at St Patrick’s Athletic and after a stop-start debut campaign at Oriel Park he has firmly established himself as one of the best in the business in defence.

Dundalk have conceded just 11 goals all season, keeping the most clean sheets too, with Hoare a constant at the back for Vinny Perth’s men. As demonstrated by his FAI Cup final goal in November he is an attacking threat from set pieces, too. He netted a 90th-minute winner against his old club St Pat’s at the end of May.

Darragh Leahy (Bohemians)

Darragh Leahy Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Watching Darragh Leahy’s steady progression since returning home from Coventry City has been a brilliant sight to behold over the last 12 months.

Low on confidence arriving back to Dublin, Leahy has been transformed under the guidance of Keith Long and Trevor Croly at Dalymount Park, with the 21-year-old now undoubtedly the best left back in the Premier Division.

He has been an ever-present in the Ireland U21 squad under Stephen Kenny and started every game at the recent Toulon Tournament, where Ireland made it all the way to the semi-finals against Brazil.

Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers)

Jack Byrne celebrates after the game Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Another player looking to prove his naysayers wrong returning home to Dublin, Jack Byrne has added a wealth of experience and guile to Shamrock Rovers’ midfield so far this season, complimenting Ronan Finn and Greg Bolger rather than overcrowding a midfield already brimming with talent.

The former Man City man has four goals to his name, including a goal-of-the-season contender against Sligo Rovers scored in front of Mick McCarthy, which helped seal Byrne an Ireland call-up.

He was on the bench for Ireland’s victories against Gibraltar and Georgia in March and has set his stall out as one of the most creative and dangerous midfielders in the SSE Airtricity League with incredible vision and pinpoint passing his hallmarks.

Ciaron Harkin (Derry City)

Ciaron Harkin celebrates his goal Evan Logan / INPHO Evan Logan / INPHO / INPHO

Harkin’s slight and skinny frame is incredibly deceptive. The hard-tackling, ball-playing central midfielder wins possession back like a demon possessed and has been Derry City’s star signing.

A product of the famed Trojans club in Cregan which also produced Kevin Deery, James McClean and Ger Doherty, Harkin has added steel and snare to a Candystripes side which looked soft and unimposing towards the latter stages of last season.

He scored a sensational hat-trick against North West rivals Finn Harps during a 4-0 win at the end of May. “I’ll probably not score another hat-trick in my life,” Harkin grinned. “So I’m just happy it was against Finn Harps.”

Danny Mandroiu (Bohemians)

Daniel Mandroiu celebrates after the game Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

His sensational Dublin derby strike against Shamrock Rovers last week went around the world, being watched almost 250,000 times on Twitter and getting picked up on ESPN’s Sports Centre too.

That goal was just a taste of what the Dubliner is capable of, his team-mates and coaches at Bohemians tell us, with much more to come from Mandroiu as he continues to build the type of form which could seal a move back to England after enduring a difficult spell with Brighton earlier in his career.

Still just 20-years-old, his goal-of-the-season contenders against Rovers and UCD at the start of the season are a microcosm of the skill, quick feet and devastating shooting ability that has made Mandroiu one of the most dangerous attacking threats this year. The scary part for opponents is that the best is yet to come.

Zach Elbouzedi (Waterford)

Zak Elbouzedi celebrates scoring a goal Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Elbouzedi’s form has been reignited at Waterford under Alan Reynolds since returning home to Ireland following spells on the books at West Brom and Inverness.

Footballers coming back home can either sink or swim, some seeing the League of Ireland as a chance to get their career back on track, while others dismiss the SSE Airtricity League as a level beneath them having played at some of England’s top sides.

Elbouzedi falls under the first bracket. He is producing electric performances on the wing at the RSC week on week and has established himself as an Ireland U21 regular — scoring a brilliant opening goal against China at the Toulon Tournament.

Dinny Corcoran (Bohemians)

Dinny Corcoran reacts to a missed chance Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

A seasoned League of Ireland pro at this stage, managers know what to expect when they sign Dinny Corcoran: goals. He has not disappointed this year at Dalymount, finding the back of the net seven times in 15 games.

An out-and-out poacher, Corcoran has spearheaded a tremendously exciting young Bohemians side which have staked their claim for a European place this season (currently in third spot with 15 games remaining), being named Player of the Month for February.

It is a cruel twist of fate that just when Corcoran seemed to be hitting his best form since his Sligo Rovers days, he suffered a horrific leg break which puts the remainder of his campaign into jeopardy.

Patrick Hoban (Dundalk)

Patrick Hoban celebrates winning Ciaran Culligan / INPHO Ciaran Culligan / INPHO / INPHO

No team of the season (or mid-season) would be complete without the mercurial Dundalk striker.

Hoban found the back of the net 29 times last season and has 11 to his name so far this campaign, very much picking up where he left off.

Truth be told, he did take a little while to get going at the start of this season, scoring just once from the penalty spot in his first four games, but ever he since has been the same old Pat Hoban we have all come to expect.

A nightmare for opposition defences to deal with, Hoban is devastating from inside the penalty area with his head or his feet. Currently leads the scoring charts, out ahead of his nearest competitor by four.

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