Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill praised the second half efforts of his side, as they came from a goal ...Sun, Jun 11 2017
For many a club the 2016 season has been one to forget, while for others, it has been the stuff of dreams.
For the bandwagon League of Ireland fan, the 2016 season has been a monumental success story. This could be no further from the truth in the scenario of many others apart from Dundalk and Limerick.
The Lillywhites and the Blues have been the major feel good stories within domestic Irish club football.
Under the guidance of Stephen Kenny, arguably the greatest ever League of Ireland outfit to have ever graced the league, the Lilywhites have reignited the flame of Irish club football in European competition, akin to Shelbourne and Shamrock Rovers.
I could go on for days singing my praises of Dundalk and how they have admirably played their way to compete with the European Powerhouses of Zenit, AZ, BATE and Legia Warsaw.
Not only have they been a breath of fresh air, they have brought a new sense of awe and wonder to the league, allowing us long suffering Irish domestic football fans to dream. Kenny's team have played an exciting brand of possession football.
In an era where Irish football has been vilified by some for long ball “dinosaur” football, it is a very warming sight to see the Lillywhites stand up and buck a perceived trend of Irish football.
As well as the Lilywhites, Limerick FC have been a monumental success story in the league. Since their somewhat relieving return to the Markets Field, almost everything has been a seamless transition. In have come the crowds and a successful footballing team, albeit in the much maligned First Division.
Not many clubs can boast of crowds in excess of 1,500 on a weekly basis in the First Division. Considering the fact that many clubs struggle to attract the crowds following their fall to the First Division, this is mightily impressive.
Making the EA Sports Cup Final and strolling to an easy title win with 6/7 games to spare. Even on a day when they weren't firing on all cylinders, they comfortably dispatched their nearest rivals. One defeat all season highlights their superiority and dominance all season.
Even when they succumbed to their defeat against Cobh Ramblers, the Blues had the title well wrapped up. No disrespect to the First Division, Limerick found it easy to stroll to the title, but the point that they attracted seriously impressive crowds into the Markets Field all season must be commended, showing us why they deserve to be in the good category.
The 2016 season was a testing year for some. Underachievement on the pitch which in turn saw a significant fall in crowds. Longford Town and St Patrick's Athletic are the perfect examples here.
Following a pre-season of little to no activity saw De Town be considered as early relegation candidates.
The loss of Stephen Rice and Mark Salmon proved fatal. The two were lynch pins of the promotion side who managed to achieve the long awaited return to the promised land of the Premier Division after a long suffering seven years in the “Graveyard Division“ and guide De Town to an impressive 6th place finish in the top tier of Irish football,
Also the inevitable loss of Ayman Ben Mohamed was a key factor as well as they lost his intricate style of play, which so often won huge points the previous season.
Going into the season confidence was high with Tony Cousins’ charges and after four points on the board in the first three games, it wasn't looking as bleak as many expected. However, it was after that point that it all turned sour. A rotten run which saw De Town go months without a win saw them floundering at the basement of the table.
Even after the long overdue sacking of Tony Cousins, Alan Mathews couldn't manage to steer Longford to safety. As a result of this crowds plummeted for the Midlanders and it was most certainly a very dark season for the Red and Black army.
St Patrick's Athletic garnered real hope and expectation of qualifying for European football this season. A decent start to year was followed by a poor run of form during June and July and they never really recovered.
Pat’s have always been considered as one of the larger clubs in the league so to see them floundering around mid-table will leave their supporters hoping that Liam Buckley can bring in the necessary pieces to make things click next season.
The FAI Cup saw a chance for redemption for the Super Saints, but were soundly put away by a Seanie Maguire inspired Cork City performance at the end of September at Richmond Park. This nailed down a pretty disappointing season from the Saints albeit with decent consolation with their EA Sports Cup win.
The season brought a new low in the form of crowds. On the night when Liverpool were playing against Manchester United in a so-called blockbuster clash that was destined to disappoint the masses, only a lowly crowd of 369 attended the Pats v Cork City clash which happened to be the moment that gifted the title race to a rampaging Dundalk side.
I know there are many United and Liverpool fans in Ireland, but surely that can't be the sole factor why there was a depressingly poor crowd at Richmond Park that night. As it happened, the United Liverpool game was a complete bore-fest while the clash at Richmond Park decided the fate of the title.
The 2016 season was a quite traumatic year for many clubs. However, in the case of Athlone Town and Waterford United it was a year that both First Division sides will hope to put behind them.
Athlone Town are the oldest League of Ireland club. Formed in 1887, they were elected to the league in 1922. In all of it's history this year has to be seen as one of the most difficult seasons the club has faced. A sad situation for the league as a whole occured when Athlone's players refused to travel to an away game with Waterford due to issues around exenses owed.
Fans were quite clearly enraged with the board and this led to a very messy situation where the fans wouldn't enter the ground and held protests on a regular basis outside the grounds. The lowest crowds in the league highlight how bad the situation is at the midland club.
Waterford United found themselves in an equally dire predicament this season. In April, the club released a statement which said that to stay afloat they needed to raise a huge total of €80,000 by the end of the season to survive.
This was a very troublesome time for the league as we were in serious danger of losing another club due to financial strains, most recently Monaghan United were the victims of this, like Sporting Fingal, Dublin City and Kildare County before them.
At the time it was a startling revelation for all involved in the league as it almost came out of the blue. A great effort was made to ensure Waterford’s survival but the question must be raised if this can last for much longer.
A tough season on and off the field for all involved at United was given a brief glimpse of hope for next season following an impressive away victory for Waterford to Shelbourne.
Before they can push forward they must solve the long-term future of the club. The 2016 season was quite clearly a very bleak and ugly period in the club’s history due to the usual problems of money which has stunted the growth of the league.
Roaring success, underachievement on the pitch and very ugly financial issues have all culminated to shape the 2016 season. Apart from the few leading examples this season has been one that will ultimately look back on as a year overshadowed by Dundalk and Limericks successes. The 2017 season can't come soon enough already.