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Season review: Northern Ireland

Published: Tuesday 27 May 2014, 12.00CET
Cliftonville FC retained the Northern Irish Premiership title to go with their League Cup, as Glenavon FC stormed up the league to sixth and won their maiden Irish Cup.
by Darren Fullerton
from Belfast
Season review: Northern Ireland
Cliftonville, seen here in a UEFA Champions League qualifier against Celtic, retained their title ©Getty Images
Published: Tuesday 27 May 2014, 12.00CET

Season review: Northern Ireland

Cliftonville FC retained the Northern Irish Premiership title to go with their League Cup, as Glenavon FC stormed up the league to sixth and won their maiden Irish Cup.

Champions: Cliftonville FC
Cliftonville made history by retaining the Northern Irish championship for the first time in the Belfast club's 135-year history. The Reds, who clinched the title with one game to spare, ended the campaign six points clear of nearest rivals Linfield FC, whom they defeated four times in four Premiership meetings. Central to Cliftonville's success was prolific strike duo Joe Gormley and Liam Boyce, who contributed 48 of the team's 88 league goals. Manager Tommy Breslin said: "It's a little piece of history and I'm very proud and delighted for the players, club and supporters. I always said a good side wins the title, but a great side retains the title."

Cup final: Glenavon FC 2-1 Ballymena United FC
Glenavon celebrated their first Irish Cup since 1997 with a 2-1 victory over Ballymena United. Ballymena captain Allan Jenkins had cancelled out Kyle Neill's rifled free-kick opener for Glenavon before substitute Mark Patton bagged the winner 14 minutes from time.

Three players picked up red cards – Glenavon defender Gareth McKeown (29 minutes) and Ballymena's Gary Thompson (40) and Tony Kane (93). Triumphant Glenavon player-manager Gary Hamilton said: "I grew up a fan of this club, so to lead Glenavon to their first Irish Cup in 17 years is a dream come true. It's the pinnacle of my football career." 

European places
Cliftonville FC – UEFA Champions League qualifying
Linfield FC – UEFA Europa League qualifying
Crusaders FC – UEFA Europa League qualifying
Glenavon FC – UEFA Europa League qualifying 

Player of the year: Joe Gormley (Cliftonville FC)
With 27 league goals in 36 games and a 37-goal haul in all competitions, the 24-year-old was named both the Northern Ireland Football Writers' Association Player of the Year and the Ulster Footballer of the Year. The mobile forward helped Cliftonville to both the title and the League Cup. Gormley's prolific tally set an all-time club record for goals scored in a season, outshining the 36 bagged by accomplice Boyce during the 2012/13 campaign. "It's not about personal awards," said Gormley. "My main aim was to help Cliftonville retain the title and thankfully I was able to do that."

One to watch: Rhys Marshall (Glenavon FC)
The teenage right-back was voted top young player of the year by the Northern Ireland Football Writers' Association, scoring three times in 27 appearances and earning a call-up to the Northern Ireland squad for the UEFA European Under-21 Championship qualifier against Italy in March. The pacey defender helped Glenavon FC to a top-six finish in the league and the club's first Irish Cup success in 17 years. 

Surprise package: Glenavon FC
Not only did Glenavon lift the Irish Cup and secure a UEFA Europa League qualifying place, Hamilton's men also achieved a top-six finish in the Premiership, the highlight of which was perhaps a 3-2 victory against local rivals, fourth-placed Portadown FC, in difficult conditions on 26 December. It was the first time the Lurgan club had ended up in the top half of the table in 13 years. Player-coach Hamilton said: "I'm very proud and privileged to manage this group of players. They deserve the highest praise." 

Leading scorer: Joe Gormley, Cliftonville FC (27)

Relegated: Ards FC 

Promoted: Institute FC

Number: 17
David Jeffrey stepped down as Linfield manager at the close of the campaign after 17 years in the Windsor Park hot seat. Appointed in January 1997, Jeffrey delivered a total of 31 trophies during his reign, including nine Premiership titles, seven Irish Cups, six domestic doubles and a historic clean sweep of all four domestic trophies in 2005/06. "I thought I'd be doing well to last two seasons as manager," said Jeffrey. "To be manager of Linfield for 17 years and to win the trophies we did was fantastic. I leave with so many wonderful memories." Former Northern Ireland striker Warren Feeney was named Jeffrey's successor earlier this month. 

Quote
"They'll maybe name a stand after me. God forbid!"
Cliftonville boss Tommy Breslin laughs off media suggestions he will go down in club legend after leading the Reds to their first back-to-back titles.

Last updated: 27/05/14 13.43CET

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