As we wave goodbye to the 2022 SSE Airtricity League Premier Division, we’ve decided to undertake the unique concept of offering up our Team of the Season.
The word “we” might be a stretch, as your humble writer may, or may not be spouting his questionable opinions, and hiding behind the safety blanket of group unity to avoid the inevitable wrath of Twitter.
Anyway, we’ll jump straight into it. Keep an eye out for our First Division selections dropping later this week.
Formation – 5-3-2
Manager – Stephen Bradley (Shamrock Rovers)
GK – Nathan Sheppard (Dundalk)
We’ll start as we mean to go on, by boiling some piss.
Alan Mannus, and Brian Mahar would be in the majority of our readers teams, and we won’t argue with you. They’re two superb shot-stoppers, coming off the back of excellent seasons with them both topping the statistics charts.
However, we’ve decided to go for Dundalk’s Welsh net-minder.
The Wales U21 star arrived to Oriel Park on a free from Brentford, and has been a consistent figure in Stephen O’Donnell’s team, clocking up 2,970 minutes of gametime.
His distribution, and agility have made him a fan favourite at Dundalk, which have seen him win the club and supporters Player of the Year award.
Since the retirement of Gary Rogers, the Lilywhites have struggled between the sticks. However, that wasn’t the case in 2022, Sheppard has easily earned his side 10 points across the campaign.
RWB – Cameron Dummigan (Derry City)
Some outrageous competition for this right-back slot this season.
Dundalk’s Lewis Macari, or St. Pats loanee Barry Cotter, could’ve easily got in but we went for, Cameron Dummigan.
The versatile 26-year-old played in several different positions throughout the season. For our money he done his best work down the right-hand side.
While an excellent central midfielder, his willingness to carry the ball, and run at opposition full-backs show he has all the tools to be a regular modern day right sided wing back. He also clocked up the most tackles in the league, which is a glimpse of his defensive capabilities too.
In a Derry team full of attacking pedigree, Dummigan stood out as the most impressive talent in the Brandywell throughout 2022.
CB – Joe Redmond (St. Patrick’s Athletic)
The best centre back in the league this season, and it wasn’t even close.
Redmond arrived to Inchicore with manager Tim Clancy from, Drogheda United.
He had the minor task of replacing the beloved Lee Desmond, and he’s done that in spades.
The 22-year-old has played every minute of every game for the Saints this season. He was even made club captain early on into his tenure.
His captaincy is a testament to his leadership qualities, and he has an ideal mix of gritty defensive attributes, along with a composed nature that brings an air of confidence to the Pats backline.
Rightfully, he won the club’s Player of the Year award. And belongs in any Team of the Season worth their salt.
CB – Mark Connolly (Dundalk/Derry City)
The Monaghan man burst onto the League of Ireland scene, joining up with Dundalk on a six-month loan spell from, Dundee United.
He became a vital part to the spine of the Louth side.
Shortly after returning to his parent club in July, Ruaidhri Higgins brought Connolly to Derry on a permanent move, much to the annoyance of those affiliated to Dundalk.
Once again, Connolly instantly slotted into the starting team, becoming an integral cog in the Derry defensive system.
As no nonsense as they come, Connolly’s transition into the top tier of Irish football has been seamless.
CB – Lee Grace (Shamrock Rovers)
Shamrock Rovers had the best defensive record of the season, only conceding 22 goals in the league. With that tally, it doesn’t feel right leaving out a centre-back from Stephen Bradley’s side.
Pico Lopes struggled with injury woes this year. Plus, Dan Cleary came in during the summer, and admittedly had some hairy moments during his teams Europa Conference League run.
For the most part, Lee Grace has been a reliable presence for the Hoops.
Unbelievably consistent in his performances, Grace has been one of the less-heralded members of Stephen Bradley’s league winning squad.
LWB – Andy Lyons (Shamrock Rovers)
He wasn’t at Tallaght for a long time, but for Shamrock Rovers, it was certainly a good time.
It was shocking when Lyons swapped the black and red stripes of Bohemians, for the green and white hoops of Shamrock Rovers on a multi-year deal ahead of the 2022 Premier Division season.
Not only because the clubs are heated rivals, but Lyons already proved with his domestic and underage international team performances that he was ready for a big move abroad.
His brilliant nine goals, and nine assists in all competitions made him instantly adored in Tallaght.
A three-year deal to Championship side Blackpool is next in line. Richly deserved for arguably the best player in the entire topflight this year.
CM – Gary O’Neil (Shamrock Rovers)
Players like Gary O’Neill constantly go overlooked in these types of conversations.
The league is full of flash midfielders that offer up flair performances to beat the band. While that’s not O’Neill’s game, it allows the likes of Jack Byrne, Graham Burke and Richie Towell more freedom further forward.
Without the likes of Gary O’Neill, Rovers wouldn’t have won their third consecutive league title. He’s the best holding midfielder at the champions, and in a squad that relies on rotation, O’Neill is a constant figure in Tallaght Stadium.
He’s ice-cold on the ball, and offers up a calm head in the more intense scenarios with his willingness to dictate the game.
CM – Adam O’Reilly (St. Patrick’s Athletic)
Is there anything worse than catching feelings for a loan player?
O’Reilly linked up with Pats as part of a loan deal from Preston North End shortly before the start of the season.
With Jamie Lennon struggling with an injury, the 21-year-old became an anchor in the heart of Richmond Park.
His tenacious work ethic, and unbridled energy made him dash around the pitch like a man possessed.
Many will remember his late goal away to Dundalk back in October, but he should be remembered for getting rid of the soft underbelly the Saints have been stigmatised with in the past.
Pats will be delighted to turn Barry Cotter’s loan move into a permanent one, but if they could somehow bring O’Reilly back into the fold, you’d be able to hear that Richmond roar for miles.
CAM – Shane Farrell (Shelbourne)
This position could, and perhaps should be Will Patching’s, but we’ve decided to select the somewhat hipster option.
While Patching has the edge in the stats department, Farrell has been a revelation for Damien Duff’s Shelbourne side this season.
The North Dubliner’s have a squad full of exciting talent that will emerge in time, but the 22-year-old is set for stardom, and Shels supporters will be delighted to see him step out at Tolka Park next season.
It’s a shame a groin injury hampered his appearance at the FAI Cup final against Derry. A fully fit Farrell could do wonders on such a stage.
Another player that can be versatile in their positioning, we feel he does his best work in these advance midfield situations.
While he only bagged five league goals this season, Farrell was invaluable to Damien Duff in 2022.
ST – Rory Gaffney (Shamrock Rovers)
It took a bit of time, but 33-year-old Gaffney has flourished under Stephen Bradley this season.
During this dominant Rovers run there isn’t many holes you could pick out. But the lack of a real central striker was something to hold against them.
Graham Burke is an exceptional talent, and Aaron Greene will chip in with a few goals during the course of a season. But Rory Gaffney has been outstanding up front for the champions.
Gaffney netted 15 goals in all competitions, and helped out with 13 assists.
It truly was a special season for the Galway native. He was great value throughout the league campaign, and as Rovers navigated through Europe
While no spring chicken, his movement off the ball and energy has been commendable, causing him to pop up with vital goals for his side this season.
The only downside is he won’t be a long-term option for Shamrock Rovers.
But, just maybe, this next man could be?
ST – Aidan Keena (Sligo Rovers)
The 23-year-old returned to the League of Ireland with little fanfare.
Since leaving St. Patrick’s Athletic in 2017, Keena bounced around Scotland and England, failing to do anything noteworthy.
Turns out, we were foolish to doubt the Mullingar man. He produced sparks in a transitional season for Sligo Rovers. Impressing at home, and during his European adventures.
Keena finished up the season as the Premier Divisions top goal-scorer with 18 goals.
You simply couldn’t have a Team of the Season without him.
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