We've been looking back on the year in football on extratime.ie - with our Top 20 most read (20 to 11 and Top 10) and our 2018 Photo Gallery - and below Gareth O’Reilly takes a month-by-month look back over the year.
The drumming sound that greeted the new domestic season for our reporters was the sound of rain pinging off the roof of press boxes around the country on the opening day of the league campaign. A Dublin derby win for Bohemians over Shamrock Rovers and a 3-2 victory for defending champions Cork City in Richmond Park were arguably the pick of the opening day results.
The last weekend of the month will be remembered for the snow that fell in and around kick off with grounds staff springing into action and grabbing their brushes to ensure that all fixtures would go ahead.
Dundalk thumped Limerick 8-0, Cork put four past Sligo and Shamrock Rovers slotted six beyond the hapless Bray in what was perhaps a tale of things to come for the Wicklow side.
The Women’s National League got underway in March and the first few rounds of games would see mixed results for all teams as new players got used to the demands of the top domestic leagues.
It would prove to be just as busy in the men’s game as the fixtures began to pile up in comical fashion in the Premier Division whilst Martin O’Neill was also in town for the first time since the Republic of Ireland’s embarrassing play-off defeat to Denmark the previous November.
Shamrock Rovers, for the second time in as many league fixtures, managed to score six. The highly anticipated clash of Dundalk and Cork took place in Oriel Park with a Pat Hoban goal after just four minutes securing the three points for Stephen Kenny’s men.
Whilst the Irish mens senior squad were entering a training camp, the Irish U21s led by Noel King were in Dublin. They took on Iceland – winning out 3-1. Days later and a 90th minute Shane Donnellan winner had King doing his best Jose Mourinho style touchline celebration as his side recorded a precious three points against Azerbaijan.
At the end of the month it was the Women under-19 side’s turn to be the international focus as the FAI hosted an Elite Qualifying Round Tournament. Unfortunately for Dave Connell’s side, a draw with Austria and a defeat to Turkey ultimately cost them their chance of progression to the next stage.
Meanwhile the Ireland Senior Men were busy losing 1-0 to Turkey but let’s not waste any column inches with any further discussion on that!
April will undoubtedly be remembered by League of Ireland fans as the month in which John Caulfield decided to tackle Waterford’s Bastien Hery during his side’s game at the RSC.
No less than six red cards were subsequently flashed by referee Rob Rogers due to the melee that the Cork bosses’ action had brought with both Caulfield and Alan Reynolds sent to the stands.
The response from the league officials was stern with both Caulfield and Reynolds hit with one game bans, while Stanley Aborah was handed down a six game (later reduced to four) ban. Bastien Hery would be initially suspended for four games which was later reduced to three, whilst Cork players Stephen Beattie and Garry Buckley were banned for four and three games respectively.
I’m sure it was all just a big misunderstanding but that certainly didn’t stop us from having quite a chuckle here in Extratime HQ.
Colin Bell was a busy manager in April as his women’s senior side played two home games – firstly beating Slovakia before losing 2-0 to the impressive Netherlands.
Back in the domestic game and Bray’s woes were continuing until 16 April when Shamrock Rovers came to the seaside with the Seagulls securing the three points – their first of the season after ten previous attempts, taking to twitter to celebrate the win none to subtly.
After 73 Premier Division games, teams were beginning to feel the effects of the gruelling fixture schedule that was laid down in the early part of the season.
However, over in the First Division a lighter schedule meant that a number of teams were still in contention to take home the title but it was Collie O’Neill’s young guns who were catching many people’s eye with their attacking brand of football. An 8-0 away win over Wexford, as well as four straight clean sheets in May, meant that it was becoming much more a chase rather than a race for their fellow First Division clubs.
May also saw Martin O’Neill side play two friendly games before the players headed for their summer holidays – with their destinations guaranteed to be anywhere other than Russia.
Graham Burke and Shane Supple were both called up, with the former playing in Paris and then managing to score during the Boys in Green’s 2-1 win over the USA – Ireland’s only win of 2018. This game saw John O’Shea wear the Irish jersey for the very last time.
The first trophy of 2018 was handed out in the Aviva Stadium with Maynooth University Town dispatching of Firhouse 4-1to win the Intermediate Cup.
League of Ireland represented in this evening’s France v Republic of Ireland programme. Programme default is to note player plays in Ireland unless noted otherwise pic.twitter.com/eiklpe5QxQ— Macdara Ferris (@macdarabueller) May 28, 2018
With the arrival of the summer months, Bray unveiled Martin Russell as their new manager.
Shamrock Rovers were having a goalkeeping crisis with a number of high profile errors. To rectify the issue the club signed Alan Mannus, although with their former ‘keeper was not available until July.
They then turned to 16-year-old Gavin Bazunu to plug the hole, keeping four clean sheets in a row. In fact the young star did so well that it was not until late July before Mannus managed to get between the sticks at Tallaght Stadium.
Elsewhere in Russia, our ET reporter Macdara Ferris was enjoying himself, covering no less than five games, as England continued to surprise us all and progressed right through to the latter stages of the competition.
This month normally marks the mid-season friendlies and this year was no different with Celtic, Preston and Burnley amongst some of the more high profile sides to face off against League of Ireland outfits.
However, they weren’t the only foreign sides to head for the Emerald Isle in July as we also welcomed European outfits as part of the beginning of the qualification process for the Champions League and Europa League.
Shamrock Rovers went out after extra-time to AIK, Dundalk progressed past Levadia Tallinn before bowing out to AEK Larnaca. Cork City were in Champions League action and lost 4-0 on aggregate to a strong Legia Warsaw side. Dinamo Minsk ended Derry City’s participation in Europe with a 3-2 win over two legs.
Dundalk have set up a Europa League second qualifying round tie with AEK Larnaca after knocking out Levadia Tallinn, thanks to quickfire goals from Patrick Hoban and Michael Duffy at what was a sold out Oriel Park. #CmonTheTown https://t.co/TqsBw7LOpU— Niall Newberry (@niallnewberry) July 19, 2018
In the International Champions Cup Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Napoli all arrived into Dublin to much fan fare with Arsenal triumphing over Chelsea with a 6-5 penalty shoot-out win, whilst Mo Salah brought joy to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool as they exited the Aviva with a 1-0 victory over their Italian opponents.
In the Women’s National League, Limerick hit five by Kilkenny and Peamount put six past UCD Waves in an entertaining opening to the month in the domestic game.
After three defeats in a row, the Senior Women got back to winning ways with a 4-0 win over neighbours Northern Ireland.
The UEFA Nations League began in September but for Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane that turned out to be the beginning of the end. A 4-1 defeat to Wales in Cardiff was followed by a 1-1 friendly draw with Poland. Northern Ireland were also busy suffering defeats as they lost out 2-1 to Bosnia in Belfast in disappointing fashion for Michael O’Neill’s men.
On 14 September, UCD secured the First Division title with a 1-1 draw with Finn Harps. A key reason for the Students success had undoubtably been the signing of Conor Davis who had been brought in mid-season to replace the outgoing Georgie Kelly.
Whilst UCD were busy scooping up the First Division trophy, Derry were busy beating Cobh in the EA Sports Cup final to secure the first major trophy of the domestic season.
The second major trophy of 2018 was picked up two weeks later as the legendary Leinster Senior Cup was won by Shelbourne following a thrilling penalty shoot-out win over St Patrick’s Athletic.
In the Premier Division, Dundalk beat Cork in Turner’s Cross to effectively end the Leesiders defence of their title.
To cap off a busy month, nearly 43,000 people packed into Pairc Ui Chaoimh to watch Roy Keane and his former Manchester United teammates take on a Celtic XI in the Liam Miller tribute match.
With Dundalk officially securing the title, attention once again turned to the final games of the much loved UEFA Nations League. What followed was first a home scoreless draw with Denmark, followed quickly by a 1-0 home defeat to Wales with the team playing some of the worst football seen at the national stadium since it’s opening in 2010.
Wexford Youths Women would pick up the Women’s National League trophy after an impressive year in which they would concede just 13 league goals.
In the WFAI Cup Final Wexford overcame Peamount United1-0 thanks to a first half strike from Katrina Parrock. 30,412 attended with the men’s game up next where Dundalk triumphed over Cork City to complete the double in what would ultimately prove to be Stephen Kenny’s last game in charge of the Lilywhites.
Having just witnessed Kenny’s last game, the Aviva Stadium hosted what would be Martin O’Neill’s last home game in a match than many consider to have been the game that nailed the coffin shut for the former Celtic boss.
A scoreless draw in which Northern Ireland completely outplayed their hosts in all aspects would cause further scrutiny on the manager. Days later and another scoreless draw against Denmark would turn out to be the last time the dream team of MON and Keano would take charge of the Boys in Green and thus with it the FAI would begin their short search for a new boss.
25 November was the date in which we received official confirmation from the FAI that they had indeed gone with Mick McCarthy as their preferred choice of new manager but what was more surprising and caught just about everyone off guard, was the unveiling of Stephen Kenny as the U21 boss and also as the future Senior Team boss from August 2020 onwards.
The start of December saw the big guns of European football storm into town as the Euro 2020 draw took place in the Convention Centre in Dublin. As McCarthy took his place in the building, his side would draw Denmark, Switzerland, Georgia and Gibraltar in a draw that only saw them avoid Germany and the Netherlands through a rule involving multiple host countries.