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Season review: Republic of Ireland

Published: Monday 19 December 2011, 15.02CET
Shamrock Rovers FC defended their title and became the first Irish club to reach the group stage of a UEFA competition while Sligo Rovers FC again found glory in the cup.
by Aidan Fitzmaurice
from Dublin
Season review: Republic of Ireland
Rovers manager Michael O'Neill celebrates their title triumph with Dean Kelly ©Sportsfile
Published: Monday 19 December 2011, 15.02CET

Season review: Republic of Ireland

Shamrock Rovers FC defended their title and became the first Irish club to reach the group stage of a UEFA competition while Sligo Rovers FC again found glory in the cup.

Shamrock Rovers FC enjoyed the most successful season in their history, successfully defending their Premier Division title and becoming the first Irish club to reach the group stage of a UEFA competition. It was also a campaign to remember for Sligo Rovers FC who narrowly missed out on the title but retained the FAI Cup via penalty shoot-out for the second year running.

Champions: Shamrock Rovers FC
Dublin club Rovers edged out Bohemian FC on goal difference on the final day of the 2010 season to clinch the title, but this term secured their 17th all-time crown with a game to spare. A dramatic victory against University College Dublin AFC, courtesy of Dean Kelly's added-time strike, in the penultimate round of games gave them an unassailable four-point lead over second-placed Sligo Rovers. "It is a marvellous achievement and the players deserve immense credit," said manager Michael O'Neill, who ended his three-season tenure in charge after their UEFA Europa League exit. "They have been superb all season and they deserve this."

Cup final: Shelbourne FC 1-1 Sligo Rovers FC (aet, Sligo won 4-1 on pens)
Shelbourne forged ahead on the half-hour but the second-tier side were reduced to ten men before the break and Sligo were level three minutes after the break. They failed to find a winner, though, and in the dying moments of extra time, Sligo manager Paul Cook brought on goalkeeper Ciaran Kelly for Brendan Clarke. Kelly was the hero in last season's showpiece when he saved four Shamrock Rovers penalties and he produced another stunning display to earn his side their second successive cup triumph. "I decided when the game went into extra time that I would bring Ciaran on, and it worked out," said Cook. "He is brilliant at saving penalty kicks. When you have someone who can read a player's body language and save penalties the way he does, you have to give him a go."

European places*
Shamrock Rovers FC – UEFA Champions League qualifying
Sligo Rovers FC – UEFA Europa League qualifying
Derry City FC – UEFA Europa League qualifying
St Patrick's Athletic FC – UEFA Europa League qualifying

*Subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the year: Eamon Zayed (Derry City FC)
Derry City FC striker Zayed was chosen by his peers after finishing as top-scorer, beating off some stiff opposition, especially from Shamrock Rovers full-back Pat Sullivan. The 28-year-old Dublin born forward of north African descent struck 22 of his side's 63 league goals to help secure European football for Derry next season; it was some effort – his previous best haul was 12 for Bray Wanderers AFC in 2005.

One to watch: James McClean (Derry City FC)
The young winger played a big part in helping Derry win promotion back to the top tier for the 2011 season but was snapped up midway through the campaign by Sunderland AFC. "I would like to think that it is good for Derry and good for the League of Ireland that another player has gone across to England and played at a high level," said the 22-year-old who made his English Premier League debut as a substitute for the Black Cats in the 2-1 victory against Blackburn Rovers FC on 11 December. "To me it is a good advert for the League of Ireland and it shows that there are talented players at home who are capable of playing at a higher level."

Surprise package: Derry City FC
After one season outside the top flight, in 2010, Derry fans had hoped that Stephen Kenny's team would use their first season following promotion to achieve stability. However, Derry exceeded all expectations on their return to the Premier Division, finishing in third place and winning the League Cup.

Leading scorer: Eamon Zayed (Derry City FC) 22

Number: 60
The number of competitive games played in 2011 by Shamrock Rovers FC.

Relegated: Galway United FC

Promoted: Cork City FC, Shelbourne FC, Monaghan United FC

Quote
"The supporters are the most important people at this club because they own it. At the end of the day, they have put their hands in their pockets over the years and done everything possible to keep the club afloat in the dark days and hopefully the last three years has gone some way to repaying that. The club has a stable future now and has all the credentials and tools to progress further and I hope that is the case."
Michael O'Neill after ending his three-season stay as manager of Shamrock Rovers.

Last updated: 19/01/12 12.22CET

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