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Season review: Northern Ireland

Published: Tuesday 8 May 2012, 10.24CET
Linfield FC dominated again as they took the league title by a 14-point margin and beat Crusaders FC in the Irish Cup final to complete a sixth double in seven years.
by Darren Fullerton
from Belfast
Season review: Northern Ireland
Linfield savour their 51st league title ©Press Eye (Belfast)
Published: Tuesday 8 May 2012, 10.24CET

Season review: Northern Ireland

Linfield FC dominated again as they took the league title by a 14-point margin and beat Crusaders FC in the Irish Cup final to complete a sixth double in seven years.

Linfield FC's recent dominance of Northern Irish football shows no sign of abating after the Belfast club celebrated another domestic double. The Blues won the league title by an emphatic 14-point margin and lifted the Irish Cup with a 4-1 win against Crusaders FC in the final. It was the Windsor Park outfit's sixth league and cup double in seven years.

Champions: Linfield FC
The defending champions retained their crown with a record-equalling points tally of 85 for the 12-team format, which was introduced in 2008. Portadown FC and Cliftonville FC both flirted with a challenge, but it was the Blues who went on to win the title by 14 points. It was the Belfast outfit's 51st championship, a seventh title in nine years and the ninth of manager David Jeffrey's 15-year reign. "The target at the start of any season is the league championship, so I'm delighted we have done the business," said Jeffrey. "It is a credit to the players. Their focus and desire since last August has been immense."

Cup final: Linfield FC 4-1 Crusaders FC
Linfield completed their sixth double in seven years with a comfortable win at Windsor Park. Man of the match Mark McAllister scored twice in the first half and Michael Carville and Jamie Mulgrew added their names to the scoresheet in the second period. Captain Colin Coates had given Crusaders a lifeline when he fired home a free-kick to make it 2-1, but it proved little more than a consolation. Linfield racked up 27 goals in their five Irish Cup ties – an average of more than five goals per game.

European places*
Linfield FC – UEFA Champions League, first qualifying round
Portadown FC – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round
Cliftonville FC – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round
Crusaders FC – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round
*Subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the year: Chris Morrow (Crusaders FC)
Morrow was a dynamic force at the heart of the Crusaders midfield as the Belfast club reached three cup finals in one season - the Irish Cup, the League Cup and the cross-border competition. The 26-year-old, who was named young player of the year in 2004, buried the winner in a 1-0 League Cup final triumph against Coleraine FC in January. Morrow is the fifth Crusaders player to win the player of the year accolade in 43 years of the annual award, following in the footsteps of John McPolin (1973), Kevin McKeown (1995), current Crues boss Stephen Baxter (1997) and Stuart Dallas (2011).

One to watch: Rory Donnelly (Cliftonville FC)
Donnelly was named young player of the year in Northern Ireland even though he left Cliftonville for Swansea City FC in January. The 20-year-old's form in the early stages of the season – he scored 17 goals before Christmas – earned him a dream move to the English Premier League. Donnelly also picked up the goal of the season award for a wonderful long range effort in a 4-2 league win against Linfield in November.

Surprise package: Coleraine FC
Manager Oran Kearney led Coleraine to a fourth-place finish in his first full season in charge of the club. The Bannsiders, who last secured a top-four spot in in 2003/04, missed out on UEFA Europa League qualification by just three points on the final day of the campaign. Kearney, who succeeded David Platt (not to be confused with the former England international and Manchester City FC assistant manager) as Coleraine manager in February 2011, also led the club to the League Cup final, where they were narrowly beaten 1-0 by Crusaders. "Our main aim at the start of the season was to finish in the top six, so to secure fourth is a tremendous achievement by the players," he said.

Leading scorer: Gary McCutcheon, Ballymena FC (34)

Relegated: Carrick Rangers FC

Promoted: Ballinamallard United FC

Number: 30
Linfield manager David Jeffrey was named manager of the year in Northern Ireland after securing the club yet another domestic double. The 49-year-old, who succeeded Trevor Anderson as Blues boss in January 1997, has now won 30 trophies in 15 years at the helm of the Windsor Park outfit.

Quote
"Some people give us no credit whatsoever. They would be overjoyed if we failed. It is always a case of 'anyone but Linfield'. That's why I so admire my players. To succeed in an environment where they are under such scrutiny and pressure takes character and courage"
Linfield manager David Jeffrey defends his club against critics.

Last updated: 09/07/12 23.51CET

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