Despite seeing their hopes of a move away from Dalymount Park to a proposed new stadium near Dublin Airport plummet this year due to the collapse of the property market in Ireland, Bohemians – one of the League of Ireland’s founding members back in 1921 – retained their championship crown for the first time in their 119-year history.
Bohs manager Pat Fenlon has now won the championship five times, but he was quick to praise his squad, saying: “It’s all about the players. To win the league two years in a row is very special. It has been a very difficult season for the club, but you always get what you deserve in football.”
The Gypsies also won the League Cup, beating Waterford United 3-1 in the Final, and there was an added reward for goalkeeper Brian Murphy, who became the first League of Ireland player to be included in Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland squad when he was called up for the World Cup play-off against France. Murphy is now set to join English Championship side Ipswich Town.
Overall it was an exciting season, but events off the field were all too often a distraction, with a bombshell right at the end of the campaign.
Derry City, who had finished fourth, were expelled by the FAI for using two different contracts for their players to cheat league regulations regarding limits on wages. After initial speculation that Derry, who are located north of the border, might return to the Northern Ireland league where they played until 1972, it now looks likely that they will join the League of Ireland First Division.
Cork City also had financial problems during the season and at one stage had difficulty paying their players – and even their bus driver – before managing to clear their debts.
After a nomadic existence for over 20 years, Shamrock Rovers finally moved into their new stadium in Tallaght, which was opened with a friendly against Real Madrid in what was Cristiano Ronaldo’s first game for his new club. Under Michael O’Neill, the Hoops kept the pressure on Bohs in the league until the penultimate game of the campaign, when their failure to beat Galway United at home handed the title to the Gypsies.
St Patrick’s Athletic, who were very weak this term after the loss of several experienced players, pulled off unlikely wins against Valletta of Malta and Krylia Sovetov of Russia in the Europa League, before going out to Steaua Bucharest. However, the Saints were poor in the league and manager Jeff Kenna quit in September. Former UCD boss Pete Mahon managed to keep Saints in the top flight, though Richard Sadlier, the ex-Millwall and Republic of Ireland striker, quit as CEO of the club at the end of the season.
Dundalk manager Sean Connor, whose side received 19 red cards, also quit at the end of the season.
University College Dublin claimed automatic promotion after winning the First Division, and they will be joined in the top flight next season by Sporting Fingal from north Dublin. Formed in 2007, Fingal finished third in the second tier, but beat runners-up Shelbourne and the Premier Division’s bottom side, Bray Wanderers, to win the play-off in what was only their second season in the league.
Managed by former Shamrock Rovers star Liam Buckley, Fingal also won the FAI Cup, beating Sligo Rovers 2-1 in the Final.
Kildare County dropped out of the First Division to be replaced by Salthill Devon, meaning that – along with Galway United in the Premier Division and Mervue United in the second tier – there will be, for the first time, three Galway teams in the league next term.
Player of the Season
Brian Shelley (Bohemians)
After winning the league in 2001 – before following Bohs boss Roddy Collins to Carlisle United in England – the 28 year-old defender, who also won the title with Drogheda United two years ago, returned to Dalymount Park in January to collect a third championship medal.
Coach of the Season
Pat Fenlon (Bohemians)
Following a successful playing career, Fenlon won three titles as manager of Shelbourne. He then had a brief spell with Derry City before returning to Dublin and leading Bohs to successive crowns.
Newcomer of the Season
Gary Twigg (Shamrock Rovers)
Followed his manager Michael O’Neill from Brechin City in Scotland to Rovers at the beginning of the year and ended up the Premier Division’s leading scorer with 24 goals.