The winners & losers of the 2017 League of Ireland season

The 2017 league of Ireland season is now in the books and it is yet another season that brought so much on and off the pitch. In the premier division there was 549 goals scored, compared to the 283 goals scored in the first division. Dundalk where the highest scorers in the country with 72 goals, while Wexford scored the least amount; with just 16 goals in their league campaign.

Athlone Town were the side with the worst defence, conceding 79 times in 28 league games, while Waterford conceded 17 times; which puts Waterford to be the best of all 20 league of Ireland sides with defending.

Cork City claimed their first league title since 2005, after an outstanding season which seen them go unbeaten until the last day of July where John Caulfield’s men struggled after the sale of Sean Maguire. This left them with just 3 wins since their 1st defeat against Bohemians in July.

Drogheda United where relegated at the 1st time of asking, as they finished bottom and will be joined by Finn Harps and Galway United.

Waterford made a return to the premier division after claiming the first division title by 8 points. They started the season as favourites and they justified that price tag by only losing 3 games all season. Cobh Ramblers were their closet challengers, but where affected by the rule change from the FAI of 2 10 team divisions next season and didn’t get a chance for a play off.

Below will give a look into the winners and the losers from this outstanding 2017 season.

The Winners.

Keith Long: Before a ball was even kicked in 2017, Bohemians were one of the favourites to be relegated from the premier division. This certainly seemed to be the case after 13 games where Bohs could only claim just 4 wins. Their relatively poor start to the campaign included 4 straight defeats and just 2 goals scored in 7 games.

The pressure mounted on Long as the fear of 3 going down started to get hold of half of the premier division clubs. The former Bray Wanderers manager however knuckled down and steadied the ship only losing just 1 of his next 6 games. Bohs lost 3 games on the spin in July that knocked Long’s troops back, so they needed to re-group and go again.

Over their next 11 games Bohemians lost 2 more times, a run that would not only see them safe; but also finish in an impressive 5th position. Dinny Corcoran played a pivotal role throughout the season scoring 15 times, while Ismael Akinade’s return to fitness gave Bohs an incredible boost in the final third.

Giving the resources at Long’s disposal, and the squad of players he had to work with, 5th is an outstanding achievement. Fuad Sule and Keith Ward proved crucial in midfield and helped Long gain this impressive final position. John Caulfield will claim the manager of the year reward for finally claiming the title, but given what Keith Long has done, he certainly deserves some recognition.

Quality of goals: The league of Ireland so often lacks in good quality football that captures the neutrals attention. It so often lacks on the pitch in terms of good quality passing, that it is so easy on the eye but the fans were spoilt this year.

From Patrick McEleney to Conan Byrne to McEleney again and back to Conan Byrne, these guys put on a clinic of world class goals. Dundalk’s midfielder McEleney walked through a St Pats defence to dink the goalkeeper from an incredible angle. He would also score another dink away to Drogheda and then again vs Galway on the last day of the season.

Conan Byrne scored inside his own half against Bohemians, while also scoring a chip away at Derry in fabulous style. These 2 where met by the wizard that is Pat McCourt who dribbled through the whole Sligo Rovers side, on a shocking Ballybofey pitch, to score superbly.

Sean Russell joined this group thanks to a stunning 25 yard volley against Sligo, while Dinny Corcoran scored from nearly 40 yards vs Drogheda United in a Bohemians win. There is just so many goals this season that if they were in one of the top 5 European leagues, people would still be talking. As fans we can only hope that this continues next season.

Cork City: After finishing runner up for the last 3 seasons, the Rebel Army finally went one step further and claimed the league title. John Caulfield has finally got the title that has evaded him since taking the managerial position at Turners Cross.

The final league table shows Cork won the league by 7 points, but that’s only half of the story as they once led by 21 points. They were in terrific form from the off, winning their 1st 12 games, before eventually been held by Galway United. They didn’t let that draw affect their momentum and went on to win their next 9 straight league games, they were relentless in the pursuit of the title.

There was questions of – Can they go unbeaten? Who can actually beat them? The 2 questions would be answered on the last day of July as Bohemians travelled to Cork and shocked everybody by winning 1-0. The Rebel Army only won 3 more times over the last 10 games as they fell over the line.

Given their early season quality form, Cork deserve all the plaudits and recognition; but the manner in which they went about the remainder of the season was poor. They blamed the sale of top scorer Sean Maguire as the form dipped, when in truth it was the reaction and mentality of the squad that had completely changed since his departure. Yes, Sean Maguire played an influential part in the side, but so did Stephen Dooley, Karl Sheppard, Gearoid Morrissey, Alan Bennett amongst others.

The new champions are quite hard to watch for 90 minutes giving the style in which Caulfield prefers, and for the fans of Cork the games leading up to been crowned champions would have been difficult ones to endure. The off season will bring many challenges for John Caulfield with who stays and goes; but it’s something he needs to get right.

The Losers.

Bray Wanderers: The off season at the Carlisle Grounds had eyes raised across the league as the Seagulls handed out 2 year contracts. Harry Kenny had recruited really well with players like Gary McCabe, Anto Flood and Aaron Greene; all signing on the dotted line and up to the summer, they looked really superb.

Playing an excellent brand of football that was so easy on the eye, Kenny had his birds flying really well. Everybody knew that Bray would come into some difficult financial circumstances and that was the case when Dennis O’Connor announced they were struggling for funds, midway through the season.

That announcement left the players perplexed and it made its way onto the pitch as performances dropped. It then get even more bizarre as the chairman Gerry Mulvey released a statement linking Bray Wanderers to North Korea, while also mentioning Barcelona and Man United in the same statement.

Bray eventually finished in 6th position winning just 3 games of their last 13. The off the field shenanigans brought Harry Kenny to announce that he would step down at the end of the season, and rightly so. What happens next in Bray is anybody’s guess but it will certainly provide some entertainment before we resume in February.

Officials: it’s a recurring theme in the league that we succumb to poor decisions up and down the country for the last number of years. They say it’s a hard a job but the people in the job don’t make it any easier with baffling and inconsistent decisions. The game came be pretty quick for some and they must make that split second decision, which isn’t easy.

This year we have seen some incredible decisions from our officials and most recently Anthony Buttimer delayed a game between Limerick and Galway over a sleeve clash. This promoted Limerick to wear their away strip despite been at home. When the sides meant earlier in the season, it went ahead without any problems; with both sides wearing the jerseys that Buttimer found a problem with!

We had a penalty given for handball outside the area between Bray and Finn Harps while needless to say, some are still unsure of the offside rule. If they get the simple ones right, nobody will have a problem and can get on with the game. The off season will be a much needed break for the officiating team and we can only hope they come back refreshed and better.

Galway United: The Tribesmen finished 10th last season well clear of the bottom 2 but still struggled for most of the campaign. They needed a big year in 2017 after the announcement of 3 teams been relegated but unfortunately, they couldn’t deliver. The board awarded the job to Shane Keegan a couple weeks after, due to seeing his Wexford Youths side relegated from the premier division.

To be fair to Keegan, he has done an excellent job at Wexford; playing a nice brand of football and moving them to the elite of the premier division. However that remained a massive ask as he only managed to pick up 6 wins as his side lost in the relegation play off.

He signed well in the off season for his new club with his best being Rowan Murray who had a wonderful year. The winger scored 13 league goals and provided so many moments for the Tribesmen, but will no doubt move on the off season. Galway were up against it from the off, as they only picked up their 1st win at the 10th time of asking.

They would only have won 6 more times throughout the league campaign, while drawing a massive 14 times. The manager’s problems were defensively as his side conceded 50 times, keeping just one clean sheet all season. Galway United’s board gamble of appointing a manager who had just been relegated, didn’t pay off and they now find themselves in a 10 team first division next year.

One thing going Galway’s way is that Shane Keegan knows the first division and will hope to use his experience in guiding his side straight back with the elite.

Aaron Doherty

 

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