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Season review: Northern Ireland

Published: Tuesday 14 May 2013, 9.00CET
Cliftonville FC's record-breaking campaign brought tears as well as headlines, while Ballinamallard United FC enjoyed a fine debut and Colin Nixon bowed out after 794 games.
by Darren Fullerton
from Belfast
Season review: Northern Ireland
Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin ©Sportsfile
Published: Tuesday 14 May 2013, 9.00CET

Season review: Northern Ireland

Cliftonville FC's record-breaking campaign brought tears as well as headlines, while Ballinamallard United FC enjoyed a fine debut and Colin Nixon bowed out after 794 games.

Cliftonville FC were the dominant force in Northern Irish football en route to a first league title in 15 years. The north Belfast club also lifted the League Cup in January thanks to a 4-0 win against Crusaders FC. Tommy Breslin's men missed out on a domestic treble, however, following a 3-1 defeat by Glentoran FC in the Northern Irish Cup final.

Champions: Cliftonville FC
Cliftonville celebrated a first Premiership title since 1998 and only the fourth in their 134-year history. The Reds secured the championship with a 91-point haul, the highest return since the 12-team format was introduced in 2008/09. North Belfast rivals Crusaders were second, while reigning champions Linfield FC came in third, 29 points off the pace. Cliftonville manager Breslin, two years in the post, said: "The players deserve a lot of credit – they won the title in style."

Cup final: Glentoran FC 3-1 Cliftonville FC (aet)
Glentoran denied Cliftonville a treble as they earned a first Northern Irish Cup triumph in nine years. Man of the match Andrew Waterworth scored twice and Jimmy Callacher was also on target as the Glens hit back from Joe Gormley's opener for Cliftonville. The scoreline was locked at 1-1 after 90 minutes, before the Ovalmen stamped their authority on the showpiece in extra time.

European places*
Cliftonville FC – UEFA Champions League, second qualifying round
Crusaders FC – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round
Linfield FC – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round
Glentoran FC – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round

*Subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the year: Liam Boyce (Cliftonville FC)
Striker Boyce, 22, was the goalscoring inspiration behind Cliftonville's charge to the top of the pile. The Northern Irish international was the Premiership's leading marksman with 29 goals. His season tally of 36 in all competitions broke an 81-year-old club record held by Norman McCaw, who struck 35 for the Reds during the 1931/32 campaign.

One to watch: Conor Devlin (Cliftonville FC)
Devlin was named young player of the year following an impressive debut season in the Premiership. The 21-year-old goalkeeper, who started his career with Manchester United FC, kept 12 clean sheets in 35 league matches, conceding an average of less than a goal a game.

Surprise package: Ballinamallard United FC
The Mallards achieved a remarkable fifth-place finish in their first term among the elite. The Fermanagh side won seven of their opening 11 league fixtures and were never out of the top half of the table from mid-September. Manager Whitey Anderson said: "Nobody gave us a prayer, but it has been a wonderful season. I always knew we could make an impact, but I'd be lying if I said I thought we would finish fifth."

Leading scorer: Liam Boyce, Cliftonville FC (36)

Relegated: Lisburn Distillery FC, Donegal Celtic FC

Promoted: Ards FC, Warrenpoint Town FC

Number: 794
Colin Nixon made his 794th and final outing for Glentoran in the 3-1 cup final victory over Cliftonville. The 34-year-old defender, who made his debut in 1995, holds the club record for most appearances. He lifted four league titles and six Northern Irish Cups during the period.

"I cried my eyes out, my wife too. It was extremely emotional. The effort people have put in, on and off the pitch, to get us to this point has been immense. I'm so proud. My board has made personal sacrifices to get us here. Some of them haven't had a family holiday in three or four years because of their commitment to this club."
Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor on their triumphant campaign.

Last updated: 28/05/13 11.12CET

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