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Class of 2018: Our SSE Airtricity League Premier Division team of the season

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

Goalkeeper

Shane Supple (Bohemians)

Shane Supple Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Now in his third season at Dalymount Park, Supple played a key role for Bohs as they resurrected their campaign with a 10-match unbeaten run that brought them to the semi-finals of the FAI Cup and a place in the top half of the table. The form of the 31-year-old was recognised with a first senior Republic of Ireland call-up in May.

Defenders

Sean Gannon (Dundalk)

Sean Gannon celebrates winning Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

It’s been another outstanding season for Dundalk’s dependable right-back, who has been named in the PFAI’s team of the year in each of the past four seasons. Gannon had his injury problems this year but he didn’t put a foot wrong when he was available to manager Stephen Kenny. An unsung hero again as Dundalk regained the title.

Sean Hoare (Dundalk)

Sean Hoare Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With Niclas Vemmelund impressing and Hoare forced to contend with an injury early in 2017, the 24-year-old centre-half had to be patient following his arrival from St Patrick’s Athletic. However, he has developed into a very important player for the Lilywhites this season, as evidenced by his selection as SWAI/SSE Aitricity player of the month for May. Hoare endured a difficult evening while deputising at right-back in the Europa League defeat away to AEK Larnaca, but that shouldn’t take away from his superb domestic form.

Sean McLoughlin (Cork City)

Sean McLoughlin and Izzy Akinade Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Cork City’s title defence didn’t go according to plan, but the emergence of McLoughlin has been one of the most positive aspects of the campaign for John Caulfield’s side. Comfortable in the air and with the ball at his feet, the young defender has defied his lack of experience throughout 2018. McLoughlin, who has attracted significant interest from clubs in the UK, made his Republic of Ireland U21 debut against Germany last month.

Darragh Leahy (Bohemians)

Darragh Leahy celebrates scoring their second goal Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Another player who has been forced to contend with injury problems this year, Leahy has nevertheless looked hugely impressive in his first season in the SSE Airtricity League. The 20-year-old became a fan-favourite at Bohs thanks to his injury-time winner against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght. It’s early days for the former Coventry City defender but the potential is certainly there for him to have a promising future in the game.

Midfielders

Chris Shields (Dundalk)

Chris Shields celebrates with the trophy Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

In most other seasons, Shields would probably be the favourite for the PFAI player of the year award. The prize looks likely to go to one of his Dundalk team-mates in 2018, but that shouldn’t take away from the outstanding campaign the 27-year-old has enjoyed. Shields has been performing to a high level for years, but he took things up a notch this season. His winning goal away to Cork City last month will live long in the memory for Dundalk fans.

Bastien Hery (Waterford)

Bastien Hery Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Waterford pulled off a major coup by securing the services of Hery from Limerick for their return to the top flight after a decade-long absence. The classy Frenchman has been majestic in the middle of the park for Alan Reynolds’ side, acting as a driving force as they booked a Europa League spot. Known more for his range of passing and ability to break up the play, Hery has also chipped in with several excellent goals for the Blues.

Dylan Watts (Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians)

Dylan Watts reacts to a denied goal Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Bohemians appeared to have unearthed a gem when they signed Watts on loan from Leicester City ahead of the start of the season. The gifted playmaker quickly adapted to life in the SSE Airtricity League. It was therefore a significant blow to the Gypsies in the summer when the 21-year-old joined their rivals Shamrock Rovers after his Leicester contract expired. Dundalk were also reportedly keen on Watts, who continued his fine form as Rovers produced a strong finish to the campaign to guarantee third place.

Attackers

Graham Burke (Shamrock Rovers)

Graham Burke celebrates scoring Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He may only have played in just over half of Shamrock Rovers’ league games, but what Burke achieved in that time warrants recognition. Despite operating as more of a playmaker than a striker, the 25-year-old Dubliner netted 13 times in 22 Premier Division games before being snapped up by Preston North End. Most significantly, however, he became the first SSE Airtricity League player to be capped by Ireland in 11 years when he was introduced in a friendly against France. His goal against USA was the first to be scored by a home-based player since 1978.

Patrick Hoban (Dundalk)

Patrick Hoban celebrates winning Source: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

If Hoban’s confidence was detrimentally impacted by a disappointing spell in England, the 27-year-old striker has done a fine job of disguising it. With an incredible haul of 29 league goals — a tally that hasn’t been matched in 42 years — Hoban has spearheaded Dundalk’s successful title challenge. His goalscoring form has been incredible, while his hold-up play also allowed the likes of Michael Duffy, Jamie McGrath and Robbie Benson to prosper.

Michael Duffy (Dundalk)

Michael Duffy 12/10/2018 Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Duffy’s enormous potential has been in evidence since last season when he returned from a spell in Scotland in an attempt to kickstart his career under Stephen Kenny’s tutelage. So far, so good. The 24-year-old winger took this season by the scruff of the neck, his trickery often creating openings for Patrick Hoban to capitalise on. The Derry native also chipped in with 13 league goals of his own, while his spectacular Europa League volley against Levadia Tallinn was the kind of moment that made Ireland manager Martin O’Neill a keen admirer.

* * *

Team selected by a panel of The42 writers consisting of Paul Dollery, Ben Blake, Aaron Gallagher and Paul Fennessy. 

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