The 2011 Airtricity League title race concluded with Shamrock Rovers winning a well-earned 17th league title.
The Hoops defeated Galway 4-0 in Tallaght to round off an impressive league campaign which saw them retain their league title. Rover’s season will not end until early December due to their participation in the Europa League group stages. The Hoops became the first Irish side to make the group stages when a Stephen O`Donnell penalty saw the Hoops edge past Partizan Belgrade. .
Sligo and Derry pushed Rovers all the way, but a Rovers win over Derry and Sligo slipping up against St Patricks Athletic in Inchicore left it all in their hands with only a couple of games left.
The Hoops consistency as well as the return from injury of Karl Sheppard, coupled with the signings of experienced quality in Rohan Ricketts and Jim Paterson pushed Rovers over the line with a game to spare in the end. A testament to the strength of the squad Mick O’Neill created is that forgotten fifth choice striker Dean Kelly scored the goal to seal the win against UCD.
Sligo had a brilliant season and again reiterated their stance as one of Ireland`s top clubs. The Bit O`Red will be buoyed by Paul Cook`s decision to turn down SPL side St Johnstone to remain in the west and few would bet against them pipping Rovers next season. Sligo will also be looking to win a second successive FAI Cup when they battle Shelboure at the Aviva today.
Derry enjoyed a marvellous return to the top flight and exceeded the expectations of everybody. Eamon Zayed was in hot form to take the golden boot while aa star studded batch of youngsters are coming through the ranks to ensure a bright future is in store at the Brandywell.
Galway United had a year to forget as their side were reduced to the very bare bones due to financial trouble, reportedly working on a budget of 1500 a week. They had a horrendous record of just one win, three draws and 32 defeats. Their goal difference came in at a staggering -95 after they conceded a record 115 goals. Their fate was sealed last Friday night after a 5-1 aggregate defeat to First Division side Monaghan United.
The Mon’s will play Premier Division football next year with First Division Champions Cork City and cup finalist’s Shelbourne, as they will take part in a new 12 team top division. Shel’s skipper David Cassidy, who was an ever present, was voted the top player on in both divisions for the season. The poll was taken on Facebook on two pages, “The Airtricity League Banter Page” and the” League Supporters Association.” The pages have over 750 members between them. Other players who received particular attention were Chris Forrester of Bohemians, and Evan Mc Millan of St Pats.
European Football provided a couple of talking points for Irish football this year, not least Shamrock Rovers outstanding work in the Europa League, and that Thursday afternoon when St Patricks Athletic were minutes from disaster.
In St Patricks Athletic’s case, the joy of Rovers European exploits may have never been possible as the players had refused to play their second leg tie against Karpaty Lviv, due to bonus payments disagreements with the Inchicore boardroom. The players however overturned their decision and played the game against the Ukrainians which they lost and the bowed out of Europe amidst a storm of controversy. Both Bohemians and Sligo Rovers exited Europe at earlier stages.
Back on the home front the Saints enjoyed a fine season although their title tilt fell off towards the end of the season. The Inchicore faithful will be further aggrieved as they must wait at least another yeat before the FAI Cup will make its long awaited return to Dublin 8.
Bohemians endured a mixed season and achieved a credible 5th place position despite the financial turmoil at the club. A huge turnover of players and a large influx of youth ensured Bohs had the ability to compete given the circumstances. The main question over the off season is whether the Dalymount Park outfit can get their finances in order and stay afloat.
Bray Wanderers and Dundalk had a rather stop start season. Both teams shot out of the traps in early March and raised many eyes. The Seagulls performance in the first round of matches led many to believe they may well have challenged for a European spot but their performances dipped during the summer and they fell to a final position of 6th. Dundalk also enjoyed a fine start to the season which culminated in a Setanta Cup final defeat to Shamrock Rovers. The form of the Lilywhites dipped after that defeat and manager Ian Foster has left the club after leading the side to a 7th place finish.
UCD played some silky football but again found it difficult to break into the top 6 while Drogheda United will be relatively happy with their season. The Drogs enlisted former Monaghan United manager Mick Cooke at the start of the season. Working off a shoestring budget Cooke put together a fine squad that finished second bottom, some 19 points ahead of an ailing Galway United side.
Team of The Season
(GK) Ger Doherty (Derry City)
(DF) Enda Stevens (Shamrock Rovers)
(DF) Evan McMillan (St Patricks Athletic)
(DF) Gavin Peers (Sligo Rovers)
(DF) Daniel Lafferty (Derry City)
(MF) Billy Dennehy (Shamrock Rovers)
(MF) Ronan Finn (Shamrock Rovers)
(MF) Richie Ryan (Sligo Rovers)
(MF) Darryl Kavanagh (St Patricks Athletic)
(ST) Eoin Doyle (Sligo Rovers)
(ST) Eamon Zayed (Derry City)